Title: The story of my childhood
Author: Clara Barton
Release date: March 5, 2021 [eBook #64704]
Credits: Richard Tonsing and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
Our classes in The History of the United States are studying about you, and we want to know more.
Our teacher says she has seen you. That you live in, or near Washington, District of Columbia, and that, although very busy, she thought you might be willing to receive a short letter from us, and I write to ask you to be so kind as to tell us what you did when you were a little girl like us. All of us want to know. I am almost thirteen.
If you could send us a few words, we should all be very happy. I write for all.
October third, nineteen hundred, six.
I am studying about you in my History, and what you did in the war, and I thought I would write and ask you what you did afore you did that.
Your oft-repeated appeals have reached me. They are too many and too earnest to be disregarded; and because of them, and because of my love for you, I have dedicated this little book to you. I have made it small, that you may the more easily read it. I have done it in the hope that it may give you pleasure, and in the wish that, when you shall be women and men, you may each remember, as I do, that you were once a child, full of childish thoughts and action, but of whom it was said, “Suffer them to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
It was May—the cherry trees were in bloom. For the first time in three years I had been able to sit for an evening among a company of persons (invalids like myself seeking strength), trying to entertain them with some remembrances of bygone days. I see it still, the broad parlor of that grand old “Hillside Home,” the mother and inspiration of all the hundreds of sanitariums and health restoring institutions of the country to-day. I had made my home near it, at the foot of the blossoming orchard.
10Down among the trees and twittering robins next morning came one of my listeners; a broad-shouldered, manly looking man, the face so full of benign intelligence that once seen was never to be forgotten. He came in at the open door, merrily shaking off the cherry blossoms like large flakes of early snow, an entire stranger to me until the previous evening. He seated himself and entered into conversation with a familiar ease that bespoke the cultured gentleman. After a few minutes he turned earnestly to me with: “Miss Barton, I have an errand in coming to you. I have a request to make.”
I said I hoped I should be able to comply. He hesitated, as if thinking how to commence, but at length said: “I want you to recall and write the 11first thing you remember—the first event that made sufficient impression upon you to be remembered.”
I waited in silence and he went on:
“And then I want you to write the next, and then the next, and so on, until you have written all—everything connected with yourself and your life that you can recall. I want it; we want it; the world wants it, and again I ask you to do it. Can you promise me?”
His earnest manner demanded an earnest reply. I could not promise to do it, but would promise to consider it.
This was in the spring of 1876. I have never forgotten the request through all these thirty-one busy years, and have carefully kept the promise to consider it; and to-night take my 12pencil to describe the first moment of my life that I remember.
By the dates I must have been nearly two and a half years old, for I was born on Christmas day, and now the lilacs were in bloom. It was a rather newly built country house where I had commenced my earthly pilgrimage, and being the youngest by a dozen or so years, of a family of two brothers and two sisters, I naturally lacked child playmates and was left much to my own entertainment.
On this occasion I must have been enjoying a ramble by myself in the grass-green dooryard, with the broad hand-hewn doorstep and the traditional lilacs on either side. Suddenly my resounding cries brought the whole family to the door in alarm. My wailing took the form of a complaint 13expressed with my best linguistic ability:
“Baby los’ ’im—pitty bird—baby los’ ’im—baby mos’ caught him—pitty bird—baby mos’ caught ’im.”
At length they succeeded in inducing me to listen to a question, “But where did it go, Baby?”
Among my heart-breaking sobs I pointed to a small round hole under the doorstep. The terrified scream of my mother remained in my memory forever more. Her baby had “mos’ caught” a snake.
I recall nothing more for nearly a year and a half, when my terrors again took possession. An esteemed and greatly beloved relative of the family had died. The funeral services were to be held four miles away. All the household would attend excepting 14myself and the younger of my two brothers, David, some sixteen years old, who was deputed to act as body guard, doubtless under strict orders.
I can picture the large family sitting room with its four open windows, which room I was not to leave, and my guardian was to remain near me. Some outside duty called him from the house and I was left to my own observations. A sudden thunder shower came up; massive rifts of clouds rolled up in the east, and the lightning darted among them like blazing fires. The thunder gave them language and my terrified imagination endowed them with life.
Among the animals of the farm was a huge old ram, that doubtless upon some occasion had taught me to respect 15him, and of which I had a mortal fear. My terrors transformed those rising, rolling clouds into a whole heaven full of angry rams, marching down upon me. Again my screams alarmed, and the poor brother, conscience stricken that he had left his charge, rushed breathless in, to find me on the floor in hysterics, a condition of things he had never seen; and neither memory nor history relate how either of us got out of it.
In these later years I have observed that writers of sketches, in a friendly desire to compliment me, have been wont to dwell upon my courage, representing me as personally devoid of fear, not even knowing the feeling. However correct that may have become, it is evident I was not constructed that way, as in the earlier 16years of my life I remember nothing but fear.
There can be no doubt that my advent into the family was at least a novelty, as the last before me was a beautiful blue-eyed, curly-haired little girl of a dozen summers. That the event was probably looked for with interest is shadowed in the fact of preparations made for it. The still existing few pieces in my possession testify to the purchase of a full, complete and withal rather aristocratic dinner set of “Old Willow,” which did faithful service many years; and the remaining bits of dainty pink and white, tell of the tea set to match, in the cups of which were told the future of many a merry party that learned their reality through still later years, not all pink and white.
17I became the seventh member of a household consisting of the father and mother, two sisters and two brothers, each of whom for his and her intrinsic merits and special characteristics deserves an individual history, which it shall be my conscientious duty to portray as far as possible as these pages progress. For the present it is enough to say that each one manifested an increasing personal interest in the newcomer, and as soon as developments permitted, set about instructing her in the various directions most in accord with the tastes and pursuits of each.
Of the two sisters, the elder was already a teacher. The younger followed soon, and naturally my book education became their first care, and under these conditions it is little to say, that I have no knowledge of ever 18learning to read, or of a time that I did not do my own story reading. The other studies followed very early.
My elder brother, Stephen, was a noted mathematician. He inducted me into the mystery of figures. Multiplication, division, subtraction, halves, quarters and wholes, soon ceased to be a mystery, and no toy equalled my little slate. But the younger brother (he of the thunder storm and hysterics) had entirely other tastes, and would have none of these things. My father was a lover of horses, and one of the first in the vicinity to introduce blooded stock. He had large lands, for New England. He raised his own colts; and Highlanders, Virginians and Morgans pranced the fields in idle contempt of the solid old farm horses.
19Of my brother, David, to say that he was fond of horses describes nothing; one could almost add that he was fond of nothing else. He was the Buffalo Bill of the surrounding country, and here commences his part of my education. It was his delight to take me, a little girl five years old, to the field, seize a couple of those beautiful young creatures, broken only to the halter and bit, and gathering the reins of both bridles firmly in hand, throw me upon the back of one colt, spring upon the other himself, and catching me by one foot, and bidding me “cling fast to the mane,” gallop away over field and fen, in and out among the other colts in wild glee like ourselves. They were merry rides we took. This was my riding school. I never had any other, but it served me 20well. To this day my seat on a saddle or on the back of a horse is as secure and tireless as in a rocking chair, and far more pleasurable. Sometimes, in later years, when I found myself suddenly on a strange horse in a trooper’s saddle, flying for life or liberty in front of pursuit, I blessed the baby lessons of the wild gallops among the beautiful colts.
Various as were the topics of instruction pursued by my youthful teachers, my father had still others. He was “Captain” Stephen Barton, had served as a non-commissioned officer, under General Wayne (Mad Anthony) in the French and Indian Wars on the then Western frontiers. His soldier habits and tastes never left him. Those were also strong political 21days—Andrew Jackson days—and very naturally my father became my instructor in military and political lore. I listened breathlessly to his war stories. Illustrations were called for, and we made battles and fought them. Every shade of military etiquette was regarded. Generals, colonels, captains and sergeants were given their proper place and rank. So with the political world; the president, cabinet and leading officers of the government were learned by heart, and nothing gratified the keen humor of my father more than the parrot-like readiness with which I lisped these often difficult names, and the accuracy with which I repeated them upon request. My elder sister, with a teacher’s intuition, mistrusting that my ideas on these points might be 22somewhat vague, confidentially drew from me one day my impressions in regard to the personages whose names I handled so glibly, and to the amusement of the family found that I had no conception of their being men like other men, but had invested them with miraculous size and importance. I thought the president might be as large as the meeting house, and the vice-president perhaps the size of the school house. And yet I am not going to say that even this instruction had never any value for me. When later, I, like all the rest of our country people, was suddenly thrust into the mysteries of war, and had to find and take my place and part in it, I found myself far less a stranger to the conditions than most women, or even ordinary men for that matter; 23I never addressed a colonel as captain, got my cavalry on foot, or mounted my infantry.
My mother, like the sensible woman that she was, seeming to conclude that there were plenty of instructors without her, attempted very little, but rather regarded the whole thing as a sort of mental conglomeration, and looked on with a kind of amused curiosity to see what they would make of it. Indeed, I heard her remark many years after, that I came out with a more level head than she would have thought possible.
My first individual ownership was “Button.” In personality (if the term be admissible), Button represented a sprightly, medium-sized, very white dog, with silky ears, sparkling black 24eyes and a very short tail. His bark spoke for itself. Button belonged to me. No other claim was instituted, or ever had been. It was said that on my entrance into the family, Button constituted himself my guardian. He watched my first steps and tried to pick me up when I fell down. One was never seen without the other. He proved an apt and obedient pupil, obeying me precept upon precept, if not line upon line. He stood on two feet to ask for his food, and made a bow on receiving it, walked on three legs when very lame, and so on, after the manner of his crude instruction; went everywhere with me through the day, waited patiently while I said my prayers and continued his guard on the foot of the bed at night. Button shared my board as well as my bed. 25This fact gave opportunity for an amusing bit of sport for the family at my expense, as was their wont.
One would, with considerable ado (to lend importance to the occasion), make me a present of some divisible luxury, as cake or candies. This called, on my part, for positive orders to all to sit down and share my gift with me, as I never partook of it alone. A line or circle was formed, comprising the entire family, Button occupying the last seat. I then proceeded to make a careful hand count of each, including Button; then retired and accurately divided my gift, a piece for each, but not myself, as I was not in the count. I then went and gave a piece to every one. The fun came in watching the silent wonderment and resignation with which I 26contemplated my own empty hands, a condition of things I could not at all comprehend, but made no complaint. Of course, each in generous sympathy offered to give back to me his or her piece; but here came in my careful mother’s protest and command, so seldom heard. “No,” I must not be taught to think I could give a thing and still possess it, or its value. A gift must be outright. I must do earnestly all that I did. Each might generously give me back a very small piece, to make in all no more than would have been my share, and I must be made to understand that even this was a favor and not a right. I then went around and received my crumbs. This all went well till I came to Button. When I held out my hand for his little charity, he had nothing for 27me. I could never understand this discourtesy of Button.
This was one of the many jokes reserved for me as I grew older. But far above and beyond it all, as the years sped on, and the hands were still, shone the gleam of the far-sighted mother’s watchfulness that neither toil could obscure, nor mirth relax.
My home instruction was by no means permitted to stand in the way of the “regular school,” which consisted of two terms each year, of three months each. The winter term included not only the large boys and girls, but in reality the young men and young women of the neighborhood. An exceptionally fine teacher often drew the daily attendance of advanced scholars for several miles. Our 28district had this good fortune. I introduce with pleasure and with reverence the name of Richard Stone; a firmly-set, handsome young man of twenty-six or seven, of commanding figure and presence, combining all the elements of a teacher with a discipline never questioned. His glance of disapproval was a reprimand, his frown something he never needed to go beyond. The love and respect of his pupils exceeded even their fear. It was no uncommon thing for summer teachers to come twenty miles to avail themselves of the winter term of “Col.” Stone, for he was a high militia officer, and at that young age was a settled man with a family of four little children. He had married at eighteen.
I am thus particular in my description 29of him, both because of my childish worship of him, and because I shall have occasion to refer to him later. The opening of his first term was a signal for the Barton family, and seated on the strong shoulders of my stalwart brother Stephen, I was taken a mile through the tall drifts to school. I have often questioned if in this movement there might not have been a touch of mischievous curiosity on the part of these not at all dull youngsters, to see what my performance at school might be.
I was, of course, the baby of the school. I recall no introduction to the teacher, but was set down among the many pupils in the by no means spacious room, with my spelling book and the traditional slate, from which nothing could separate me. I was 30seated on one of the low benches and sat very still. At length the majestic schoolmaster seated himself, and taking a primer, called the class of little ones to him. He pointed the letters to each. I named them all, and was asked to spell some little words, “dog,” “cat,” etc., whereupon I hesitatingly informed him that I did “not spell there.” “Where do you spell?” “I spell in ‘Artichoke,’” that being the leading word in the three syllable column in my speller. He good naturedly conformed to my suggestion, and I was put into the “artichoke” class to bear my part for the winter, and read and “spell for the head.” When, after a few weeks, my brother Stephen was declared by the committee to be too advanced for a common school, and was placed in charge of an important 31school himself, my unique transportation devolved upon the other brother, David.
No colts now, but solid wading through the high New England drifts.
The Rev. Mr. Menseur of the Episcopal church of Leicester, Mass., if I recollect aright, wisely comprehending the grievous inadaptability of the school books of that time, had compiled a small geography and atlas suited to young children, known as Menseur’s Geography. It was a novelty, as well as a beneficence; nothing of its kind having occurred to makers of the school books of that day. They seemed not to have recognized the existence of a state of childhood in the intellectual creation. During the winter I had become the happy possessor of a Menseur’s Geography 32and Atlas. It is questionable if my satisfaction was fully shared by others of the household. I required a great deal of assistance in the study of my maps, and became so interested that I could not sleep, and was not willing that others should, but persisted in waking my poor drowsy sister in the cold winter mornings to sit up in bed and by the light of a tallow candle, help me to find mountains, rivers, counties, oceans, lakes, islands, isthmuses, channels, cities, towns and capitals.
33The next May the summer school opened, taught by Miss Susan Torrey. Again, I write the name reverently, as gracing one of the most perfect of personalities. I was not alone in my childish admiration, for her memory remained a living reality in the town long years after the gentle spirit fled. My sisters were both teaching other schools, and I must make my own way, which I did, walking a mile with my one precious little schoolmate, Nancy Fitts. Nancy Fitts! The playmate of my childhood; the “chum” of laughing girlhood; the faithful trusted companion of young womanhood, and the beloved life friend that the relentless grasp of time has neither changed, nor taken from me.
On entering the wide open door of the inviting schoolhouse, armed with some most unsuitable reader, a spelling book, geography, atlas and slate, I was seized with an intense fear at finding myself with no member of the family near, and my trepidation became so visible that the gentle teacher, 34relieving me of my burden of books, took me tenderly on her lap and did her best to reassure and calm me. At length I was given my seat, with a desk in front for my atlas and slate, my toes at least a foot from the floor, and that became my daily, happy home for the next three months.
I partially recall an event which occurred when I was five years old; the incidents which I could not have personally remembered, must have been supplied by later relations. It seems that I was suddenly discovered to be alarmingly ill. In response to the terror of the moment, the saddle was thrown on Black Stallion, the king of the herd, his rough rider mounted and away for the doctor, on “Oxford Plain,” five miles away. “Not at 35home—out on a professional drive.” Followed to “Sutton Street,” six miles further on. “Gone.” Back over “Hog Hill” and across the town to the west. At length overtaken and brought back at a speed little less than that which had called him, for the doctor was a fearless driver. The thunder of the flying hoofs and the speed of the rider as they passed had alarmed the people. All the town knew the horse and the rider, and knew as well that something bad had happened at Captain Barton’s. Men dropped their work, harnessed their own teams and drove with all haste to see if, perchance, it were anything in which they could help. When the doctor arrived, the yard and road were filled with people, waiting his coming and diagnosis.
36Shortly the verbal bulletin went out: “A sudden, unaccountable and probably fatal attack of bloody dysentery and convulsions.” There was no more for the sympathetic neighbors to do; they turned sadly away, and with them went the report that Captain and Mrs. Barton had lost their little baby girl.
CAPTAIN STEPHEN BARTON, MY FATHER.
SALLY STONE BARTON, MY MOTHER.
37Of all this I have, naturally, no recollection—neither do I know the lapse of time till memory again got hold; but her first grasp of the event was this: I had occupied as a bed a great cradle which had been made for some grown invalid, and preserved in the household. I was bolstered up in this cradle, with a little low table at the side on which was my first meal of solid food. How I had previously been nourished I do not know, but I can see this meal as clearly as if it had been yesterday. A piece of brown bread crust, about two inches square, rye and Indian, baked on the oven bottom; a tiny wine glass, my Christmas gift, full of home-made blackberry cordial, and a wee bit of my mother’s well cured old cheese. There was no need to caution me to eat slowly; knowing that I could have no more, and in dread of coming to the last morsel, I nibbled and sipped and swallowed till I mercifully fell asleep from exhaustion.
There are a good many men over the country who would readily believe that sometimes, at the end of a long fast, food might have tasted very good to me, as it did to them; but no food through the longest fast, ever had the relish of that brown bread 38crust; and no royal table has ever been so kingly as that where I presided alone over my own feast.
Of the succeeding years, six, seven and eight, I recall little of note beyond my studies, excepting a propensity I indulged for writing verses, many of which were preserved to amuse, others to tease me for many years. Colonel Stone had closed his series of common schools, and opened a special institution on “Oxford Plain,” known as the “Oxford High School.” Its fame had spread for miles around, and it was regarded as the Ultima Thule for teachers, and in a manner a stepping stone or opening door to Harvard and Yale.
My brother Stephen had succeeded Col. Stone in the winter terms of the 39home school, and my sisters mainly had charge of them in summer. Thus six months of each year offered little change, the others were long vacations in which the out-of-doors played by far the most prominent part. There were garden and flower beds to be made, choice pet animals to look after, a few needy families with little children to be thought of, and some sewing to be attempted. These latter were in accordance with my mother’s recommendations. I recall no season of dolls, and believe they were never included in my curriculum.
Meantime, I fell heir to my mother’s side saddle, a beautiful piece of workmanship, and with some difficulty learned to adjust myself to it, a rather useless adjustment it seemed to me at the time, which opinion I still entertain.
40These were years of change in the family. My brothers had become of age and were young men of strength, character and enterprise. They had “bought out” as the term went, the two large farms of my father, and commenced business in earnest for themselves. My father had purchased another farm of some three hundred acres, a few miles nearer the center of the town.
This was a place of note, having been one of the points used for security against the Indians by the old Huguenot Settlers of Oxford, and which has made the town historic. Their main defense was on “Fort Hill,” several miles to the east. I was naturally greatly interested in the changes, and doubtless gave them all the time I could spare from my increasing 41studies. I can recollect even now that my life seemed very full for a little girl of eight years.
During the preceding winter I began to hear talk of my going away to school, and it was decided that I be sent to Col. Stone’s High school, to board in his family and go home occasionally. This arrangement, I learned in later years, had a double object. I was what is known as a bashful child, timid in the presence of other persons, a condition of things found impossible to correct at home. In the hope of overcoming this undesirable mauvais honte, it was decided to throw me among strangers.
How well I remember my advent. My father took me in his carriage with a little dressing case which I dignified 42with the appellation of “trunk”—something I had never owned. It was April—cold and bare. The house and school rooms adjoined, and seemed enormously large. The household was also large. The long family table with the dignified preceptor, my loved and feared teacher at three years, at its head, seemed to me something formidable. There were probably one hundred and fifty pupils daily in the ample school rooms, of which I was perhaps the youngest, except the colonel’s own children.
My studies were chosen with great care. I remember among them, ancient history with charts. The lessons were learned to repeat by rote. I found difficulty both in learning the proper names and in pronouncing them, as I had not quite outgrown my 43lisp. One day I had studied very hard on the Ancient Kings of Egypt, and thought I had everything perfect, and when the pupil above me failed to give the name of a reigning king, I answered very promptly that it was “Potlomy.” The colonel checked with a glance the rising laugh of the older members of the class, and told me, very gently, that the P was silent in that word. I had, however, seen it all, and was so overcome by mortification for my mistake, and gratitude for the kindness of my teacher, that I burst into tears and was permitted to leave the room.
COLONEL RICHARD C. STONE, MY TEACHER AT THREE YEARS OF AGE.
I am not sure that I was really homesick, but the days seemed very long, especially Sundays. I was in constant dread of doing something wrong, and one Sunday afternoon I 44was sure I had found my occasion. It was early spring. The tender leaves had put out and with them the buds and half open blossoms of the little cinnamon roses, an unfailing ornamentation of a well kept New England home of that day. The children of the family had gathered in the front yard, admiring the roses and daring to pick each a little bouquet. As I stood holding mine, the heavy door at my back swung open, and there was the colonel, in his long, light dressing gown and slippers, direct from his study. A kindly spoken “come with me, Clara,” nearly took my last breath. I followed his strides through all the house, up the long flights of stairs, through the halls of the school rooms, silently wondering what I had done more than the others. 45I knew he was by no means wont to spare his own children. I had my handful of roses—so had they. I knew it was very wrong to have picked them, but why more wrong for me than for the others? At length, and it seemed to me an hour, we reached the colonel’s study, and there, advancing to meet us, was the Reverend Mr. Chandler, the pastor of our Universalist church, whom I knew well. He greeted me very politely and kindly, and handed the large, open school reader which he held, to the colonel, who put it into my hands, placed me a little in front of them, and pointing to a column of blank verse, very gently directed me to read it. It was an extract from Campbell’s “Pleasures of Hope,” commencing, “Unfading hope, when life’s last embers 46burn.” I read it to the end, a page or two. When finished, the good pastor came quickly and relieved me of the heavy book, and I wondered why there were tears in his eyes. The colonel drew me to him, gently stroked my short cropped hair, went with me down the long steps, and told me I could “go back to the children and play.” I went much more easy in mind than I came, but it was years before I comprehended anything about it.
My studies gave me no trouble, but I grew very tired, felt hungry all the time but dared not eat, grew thin and pale. The colonel noticed it, and watching me at table found that I was eating little or nothing, refusing everything that was offered me. Mistrusting that it was from timidity, he 47had food laid on my plate, but I dared not eat it, and finally at the end of the term a consultation was held between the colonel, my father and our beloved family physician, Dr. Delano Pierce, who lived within a few doors of the school, and it was decided to take me home until a little older, and wiser, I could hope. My timid sensitiveness must have given great annoyance to my friends. If I ever could have gotten entirely over it, it would have given far less annoyance and trouble to myself all through life.
To this day, I would rather stand behind the lines of artillery at Antietam, or cross the pontoon bridge under fire at Fredericksburg, than to be expected to preside at a public meeting.
48Referring to the breaking up of the first home, and the removal of my father and mother to the new one, it might be well to state the reasons for the change. A favorite nephew of my father, Mr. Jeremiah Larned, had died after a lingering illness, leaving a widow and four children, from thirteen to six years of age, on the fine farm which had descended to him from his father, Captain Jeremiah Larned, one of the leading men of the town. Unfortunately, during his long illness the farm had become involved to the extent of necessitating a sale. This would result in depriving the widow and her small children of a home, and in order to prevent this, and the disadvantages of a creditor’s sale, it was decided that my father and a brother-in-law of Mrs. 49Larned, Captain Sylvester McIntire, who had no children, purchase the farm, and remove there, keeping the widow and children with them.
The hill farms—for there were two—were sold to my brothers, who, entering into partnership, constituted the well known firm of S. & D. Barton, continuing mainly through their lives. Thus I became the occupant of two homes, my sisters remaining with my brothers, none of whom were married.
The removal to the second home was a great novelty to me. I became observant of all changes made. One of the first things found necessary on entering a house of such ancient date, was a rather extensive renovation, for those days, of painting and papering. The leading artisan in that line in the 50town was Mr. Sylvanus Harris, a courteous man of fine manners, good scholarly acquirements, and who, for nearly half a lifetime, filled the office of town clerk. The records of Oxford will bear his name and his beautiful handwriting as long as its records exist.
Mr. Harris was engaged to make the necessary improvements. Painting included more then than in these later days of prepared material. The painter brought his massive white marble slab, ground his own paints, mixed his colors, boiled his oil, calcined his plaster, made his putty and did scores of things that a painter of to-day would not only never think of doing, but would often scarcely know how to do.
Coming from the newly built house 51where I was born, I had seen nothing of this kind done, and was intensely interested. I must have persisted in making myself very numerous, for I was constantly reminded not to “get in the gentleman’s way.” But I was not to be set aside. My combined interest and curiosity for once overcame my timidity, and encouraged by the mild, genial face of Mr. Harris, I gathered the courage to walk up in front and address him: “Will you teach me to paint, sir?” “With pleasure, little lady, if mama is willing, I should very much like your assistance.” The consent was forthcoming, and so was a gown suited to my new work, and I reported for duty. I question if any ordinary apprentice was ever more faithfully and intelligently instructed in his first month’s 52apprenticeship. I was taught how to hold my brushes, to take care of them, allowed to help grind my paints, shown how to mix and blend them, how to make putty and use it, to prepare oils and dryings, and learned from experience that boiling oil was a great deal hotter than boiling water, was taught to trim paper neatly, to match and help to hang it, to make the most approved paste, and even varnished the kitchen chairs to the entire satisfaction of my mother, which was triumph enough for one little girl. So interested was I, that I never wearied of my work for a day, and at the end of a month looked on sadly as the utensils, brushes, buckets and great marble slab were taken away. There was not a room that I had not helped to make better; there 53were no longer mysteries in paint and paper. I knew them all, and that work would bring callouses even on little hands.
When the work was finished and everything gone, I went to my room, lonesome in spite of myself. I found on my candle stand a box containing a pretty little locket, neatly inscribed, “To a faithful worker.” No one seemed to have any knowledge of it, and I never gained any.
The new home presented a phase of life quite unfamiliar to me. From never having had any playmates, I now found myself one of a very lively body of six—three boys and three girls nearer of an age than would have been probable in the same family. My father had taken charge of the young 54son of a friend—Lovett Stimpson—a fine, robust, intelligent lad of about my age, who lived with us.
It would be difficult to describe what this new life, for the time it continued, became to me, or indeed I to it. As I look back upon it I realize that we were a group of good children with honorable instincts, obedient and kindly disposed. In later years none of us could recall a serious difference of any kind, no cruelty and no broken faith. It took just six, and no more, to keep a secret. But this portrayal of characteristics gives no clue to, indeed casts no shadow, of what we were capable of accomplishing in a day. The territorial domain comprised something over three hundred acres. We knew it all. From “Peakèd Hill,” to “Jim Brown’s”—across the 55“Flowed Swamp,” three miles, we knew every rod of it. Old “Rocky Hills,” so high, so steep, so thickly wooded that a horse would never attempt them, were no strangers. We knew where the best chestnuts were. We explored the “Devil’s Den,” in spite of the tradition that it was an abode for the tempters of Eve. The “French River,” that later carried all the factories of North Oxford, spread itself out in lazy rest, after its rugged leaps, as it meandered through the broad, beautiful meadows and interval land, the pride of the farm.
A long hewn log or pole stretched across it in its narrowest, deepest place. I would not dare to say how long, but it could not have been more than fourteen inches wide, and swayed and teetered from the 56moment the foot touched till it left it. The waters glided still and black beneath. It was there as a convenience for the working men in crossing from one field to another; but if ever a week day passed that we did not cross it several times, we knew one duty had been neglected. The only sawmill in that section of the town was a part of my father’s possessions. The great up-and-down saw cut its angry way through the primeval forest giants from morning till night, and not unfrequently from night till morning. The long saw-carriage ran far out over the raceway at the rear end. How were we to withstand the temptation of riding out over the rushing mill stream twenty feet below, and then coming quickly in as the sawn log was drawn back for another 57cut? Hurt? Never one of us. Killed? We knew not such a thing could be.
There were three temptingly great barns, scattered between the house premises and the interval. Was there ever a better opportunity for hide-and-seek, for climbing and jumping? It would have been no athlete at all that couldn’t jump from the great beams to the hay, in scant summer time before the new hay came in, and land on the feet safely. There was, and still is, directly in front of the house, a small, circular, natural pond, fed by springs in the bottom and surrounded by a cordon of hills forming a basin in which the little pond basks and sleeps through the summer, but in winter becomes a thing of beauty and a joy forever to the skater. From its sheltered position it freezes smooth, 58even, and glare, and has no danger spots. I dwell upon this description, for that little pond was my early love; the home of my beautiful flock of graceful ducks. The boys were all fine skaters; I wanted to skate, too, but skating had not then become customary, in fact, not even allowable for girls; and when, one day, my father saw me sitting on the ice attempting to put on a pair of skates, he seemed shocked, recommended me to the house, and said something about “tomboys.” But this did not cure my desire; nor could I understand why it was not as well for me to skate as for the boys; I was as strong, could run as fast and ride better, indeed they would not have presumed to approach me with a horse. Neither could the boys understand it, and this misconception 59led them into an error and me into trouble.
One clear, cold, starlight Sunday morning, I heard a low whistle under my open chamber window. I realized that the boys were out for a skate and wanted to communicate with me. On going to the window, they informed me that they had an extra pair of skates and if I could come out they would put them on me and “learn” me how to skate. It was Sunday morning; no one would be up till late, and the ice was so smooth and “glare.” The stars were bright, the temptation was too great. I was in my dress in a moment and out. The skates were fastened on firmly, one of the boy’s wool neck “comforters” tied about my waist, to be held by the boy in front. The other two were to stand on either 60side, and at a signal the cavalcade started. Swifter and swifter we went, until at length we reached a spot where the ice had been cracked and was full of sharp edges. These threw me, and the speed with which we were progressing, and the distance before we could quite come to a stop, gave terrific opportunity for cuts and wounded knees. The opportunity was not lost. There was more blood flowing than any of us had ever seen. Something must be done. Now all of the wool neck comforters came into requisition; my wounds were bound up, and I was helped into the house, with one knee of ordinary respectable cuts and bruises; the other frightful. Then the enormity of the transaction and its attendant difficulties began to present themselves, and 61how to surround (for there was no possibility of overcoming them), was the question.
The most feasible way seemed to be to say nothing about it, and we decided to all keep silent; but how to conceal the limp? I must have no limp, but walk well. I managed breakfast without notice. Dinner not quite so well, and I had to acknowledge that I had slipped down and hurt my knee a little. This gave my limp more latitude, but the next day it was so decided, that I was held up and searched. It happened that the best knee was inspected; the stiff wool comforter soaked off, and a suitable dressing given it. This was a great relief, as it afforded pretext for my limp, no one observing that I limped with the wrong knee.
62But the other knee was not a wound to heal by first intention, especially under its peculiar dressing, and finally had to be revealed. The result was a surgical dressing and my foot held up in a chair for three weeks, during which time I read the “Arabian Nights” from end to end. As the first dressing was finished, I heard the surgeon say to my father: “that was a hard case, Captain, but she stood it like a soldier.” But when I saw how genuinely they all pitied, and how tenderly they nursed me, even walking lightly about the house not to jar my swollen and fevered limbs, in spite of my disobedience and detestable deception (and persevered in at that), my Sabbath breaking and unbecoming conduct, and all the trouble I had caused, conscience revived, and my 63mental suffering far exceeded my physical. The Arabian Nights were none too powerful a soporific to hold me in reasonable bounds. I despised myself and failed to sleep or eat.
My mother, perceiving my remorseful condition, came to the rescue, telling me soothingly, that she did not think it the worst thing that could have been done, that other little girls had probably done as badly, and strengthened her conclusions by telling me how she once persisted in riding a high mettled unbroken horse in opposition to her father’s commands, and was thrown. My supposition is that she had been a worthy mother of her equestrian son.
The lesson was not lost on any of the group. It is very certain that none of us, boys or girls, indulged in 64further smart tricks. Twenty-five years later, when on a visit to the old home, long left, I saw my father, then a grey-haired grandsire, out on the same little pond, fitting the skates carefully to the feet of his little twin granddaughters, holding them up to make their first start in safety, I remembered my wounded knees, and blessed the great Father that progress and change were among the possibilities of His people.
I never learned to skate. When it became fashionable I had neither time nor opportunity.
Along these lines I recall another disappointment, which, though not vital, was still indicative of the times. During the following winter a dancing school was opened in the hall of 65the one hotel on Oxford Plain, some three miles from us. It was taught by a personal friend of my father, a polished gentleman, resident of a neighboring town, and teacher of English schools. By some chance I got a glimpse of the dancing school at the opening, and was seized with a most intense desire to go and learn to dance. With my peculiar characteristics it was necessary for me to want a thing very much before mentioning it; but this overcame me, especially as the cordial teacher took tea with us one evening before going to his school, and spoke very interestingly of his classes. I even went so far as to beg permission to go. The dance was in my very feet. The violin haunted me. “Ladies change” and “all hands round” 66sounded in my ears and woke me from my sleep at night.
The matter was taken up in family council. I was thought to be very young to be allowed to go to a dancing school in a hotel. Dancing at that time was at a very low ebb in good New England society, and besides, there was an active revival taking place in both of the orthodox churches (or rather one a church and the other a society without a church), and it might not be a wise, nor even a courteous, thing to allow. Not that our family, with its well known liberal proclivities, could have the slightest objection on that score; still, like St. Paul, if meat were harmful to their brethren they would not eat it, and thus it was decided that I could not go. The decision was 67perfectly conscientious, kindness itself, and probably wise; but I have wondered if they could have known (as they never did) how severe the disappointment was, the tears it cost me in my little bed in the dark, the music and the master’s voice still sounding in my ears, if this knowledge would have weighed in the decision.
I have listened to a great deal of music since then, interspersed with very positive orders, and which generally called for “all hands round” but the dulcet notes of the violin and the “ladies change” were missing. Neither did I ever learn to dance.
From the peculiar gifts that were wont to be made me in those days, I am led to infer that my peculiarities 68in the direction of the dumb animal part of creation, were decidedly noticeable. On one occasion an English gentleman, a friend of the family, and, like my father, a promoter of fine stock, had been paying us a visit, and upon returning to his home, near Boston, sent to me a beautifully soft, wool-wadded basket containing two and a half dozens of fine, large duck’s eggs. It was not difficult to find among the numerous feathered inhabitants of the barns, three domestically inclined, motherly hens, willing to take charge of the big tinted eggs, albeit not their own, giving to them the strictest attention. The result was, that within four weeks, the shallow end of the little pond was covered with tiny balls of yellow down floating calmly and majestically on the 69water—darting rapidly this way and that, for every fly or bug so unfortunate as to appear, while the shore presented the scene of three of the most distracted mothers that imagination can picture. There was nothing majestic nor calm in their motions, and the tones which called the recreant broods were far from soothing; but like the mothers of other wayward, unnatural offspring, the lesson of submission was theirs to learn; and through resignation at length came peace.
In the course of two or three years my flock of ducks became so numerous as to attract the attention of the wild ducks, passing over from the northern lakes to the southern bays, and it was no uncommon thing for an entire flock, wearied with a long 70journey, to alight for a few days’ rest. My tame ducks learned athletics from these native divers and dippers, and the scene became at times not only interesting, but inspiring and instructive.
It is very evident to me, as I remember it, that my aspirations were by no means satisfied with an interest in these small specimens, such as ducks, hens, turkeys, geese, dogs, cats, etc., of which I had no lack. This not including canaries, of which I received from time to time a number as gifts; but I had no pleasure in them, and although doubtless the most inhuman thing that could have been done, I invariably opened the cage door and let them out.
But all that farm land, the three great barns and accompanying yards, 71called for cattle. A small herd of twenty-five fine milch cows came faithfully home each day with the lowering of the sun, for the milking and extra supper which they knew awaited them. With the customary greed of childhood I had laid claim to three or four of the handsomest and tamest of them, and believing myself to be their real owner, I went faithfully every evening to the yards to receive and look after them. My little milk pail went as well, and I became proficient in an art never forgotten.
One afternoon, on going to the barn as usual, I found no cows there; all had been driven somewhere else. As I stood in the corner of the great yard alone, I saw three or four men—the farm hands—with one stranger among 72them wearing a long, loose shirt or gown. They were all trying to get a large red ox onto the barn floor, to which he went very reluctantly. At length they succeeded. One of the men carried an axe, and stepping a little to the side and back, raised it high in the air and brought it down with a terrible blow. The ox fell, I fell too; and the next I knew I was in the house on a bed, and all the family about me, with the traditional camphor bottle, bathing my head to my great discomfort. As I regained consciousness they asked me what made me fall? I said “some one struck me.” “Oh, no,” they said, “no one struck you,” but I was not to be convinced and proceeded to argue the case with an impatient putting away of the hurting hands, “then what 73makes my head so sore?” Happy ignorance! I had not then learned the mystery of nerves.
I have, however, a very clear recollection of the indignation of my father (my mother had already expressed herself on the subject), on his return from town and hearing what had taken place. The hired men were lined up and arraigned for “cruel carelessness.” They had “the consideration to keep the cattle away,” he said, “but allowed that little girl to stand in full view.” Of course, each protested he had not seen me. I was altogether too friendly with the farm hands to hear them blamed, especially on my account, and came promptly to their side, assuring my father that they had not seen me, and that it was “no matter,” I was “all well now.” 74But, singularly, I lost all desire for meat, if I had ever had it—and all through life to the present, have only eaten it when I must for the sake of appearance, or as circumstances seemed to make it the more proper thing to do. The bountiful ground has always yielded enough for all my needs and wants.
I had been eleven years old the Christmas before. Great changes had taken place during the two or three preceding years. My energetic brothers had outgrown farming, sold their two farms on the hill, and come down and bought of my father all his water power on the French River, as well as all obtainable timber land in the vicinity. The staunch old up-and-down saw still stood in its majesty 75for the handling of the forest giants too massive for a lesser power, but it was surrounded by a cordon of belted “circulars,” whirling with a speed that quite obscured their motion, screaming, screeching and throwing out the product of their work in all directions; shingles, laths, thin boards, bolters and slitters. New dams had been thrown across the shifty, flighty stream, to be swept away in the torrents of the spring freshets and floating ice, but replaced at once with an obstinate manliness and enterprise that scarcely admitted of an interruption in the work.
In a new building along the side of the dam, the great burr-stones of that date ground out the wholesome grain of all the surrounding country, and where I had first seen it under the 76control of the one lone sawyer, now fifty of the strongest working men that could be procured, and great four-horse teams covered the once quiet mill-yard. The entire line of factories above had caught the inspiration, and the French River villages of North Oxford were models of growth and activity.
One sister had married and settled in her home near by, and a wife had come into my eldest brother’s home. Mrs. Larned, the widow to whose assistance my father had gone in her early desolation, had found her children now so well grown as to make it advisable to remove to one of the factory villages, where she became a popular boarding house keeper, and her children operatives in the mill.
Thus, I was again left to myself. 77The schools were not the best, but all that could be done for me, in or out of them, was done. I had been especially well taught to sew and liked it, but knitting was beyond me. I could not be held to it, and it was given up.
Through the confirmed invalidism of my elder sister, Dorothea, I lost her beautiful guidance, but the watchful care of my younger sister, now Mrs. Vassall, was truly pathetic. She never lost sight of my welfare, and her fine literary taste was a constant inspiration.
While thus in the midst of my various pursuits and vocations, an accidental turn in my wheel of fortune changed my entire course (for a time at least) and how much bearing, if 78any, it may have had on the future, I have never been able to determine. I have spoken of the younger of my two brothers, of the firm of S. & D. Barton, as a fine horseman. He was more than that. In these days he would have been an athlete. The two men were but two years apart in age, of fine disposition and excellent physical strength, integrity and courage; of fine disposition and equable temper; yet neither of them men with whom an opponent would carelessly or tauntingly covet an encounter. The younger, David, from his physical activity and daring, was always selected for any feat of danger to be performed.
These were days when even buildings were “raised by hand.” All the neighborhood was expected to participate 79in a “raising.” Upon one occasion, an uncommonly large barn, with what was then still more uncommon, a cellar beneath, was to be raised. The rafters must be affixed to the ridgepole, and David Barton was assigned to this duty. While in its performance, a timber on which he was standing, having been weakened by an unobserved knot, suddenly gave way, and he fell directly to the first floor, striking on his feet on another timber near the bottom of the cellar. Without falling he leaped to the ground, and after a few breathless minutes declared himself unhurt, but was not permitted to return aloft. It was spoken of as a “remarkable adventure,” “a wonderful escape,” etc., and for a few days all went well, with the exception of a slight and quite unaccustomed 80headache, which continued to increase as the July weather progressed. At length he showed symptoms of fever; the family physician was called, and here commenced a system of medical treatment quite unknown to our physicians of the present day, other than as results of historical research and milestones of scientific advancement.
He was pronounced in a “settled fever,” which must not be “broken up,” and could only be held in check by reducing the strength of the patient. He had “too much blood,” was “too vigorous,” “just the patient for a fever to ‘go hard with,’” it was said. Accordingly, the blood was taken from time to time, as long as it seemed safe to do so. The terrible pain in the head continued and blisters 81were applied to all possible places, in the hope of withdrawing the pain. Sleepless, restless, in agony both physical and mental, his case grew desperate. He had been my ideal from earliest memory. I was distressed beyond measure at his condition. I had been his little protégée, his companion, and in his nervous wretchedness he clung to me. Thus, from the first days and nights of illness, I remained near his side. The fever ran on and over all the traditional turning points, seven, fourteen, twenty-one days. I could not be taken away from him except by compulsion, and he was unhappy until my return. I learned to take all directions for his medicines from his physician (who had eminent counsel) and to administer them like a genuine nurse.
82My little hands became schooled to the handling of the great, loathsome, crawling leeches which were at first so many snakes to me, and no fingers could so painlessly dress the angry blisters; and thus it came about, that I was the accepted and acknowledged nurse of a man almost too ill to recover.
Finally, as the summer passed, the fever gave way, and for a wonder the patient did not. No physician will doubt that I had given him poison enough to have killed him many times over, if suitably administered with that view. He will also understand the condition in which the patient was left. They had certainly succeeded in reducing his strength.
Late in the autumn he stood on his feet for the first time since July. Still 83sleepless, nervous, cold, dyspeptic—a mere wreck of his former self. None were so disturbed over his condition as his kind-hearted, and for those days, skillful physicians, who had exhausted their knowledge and poured out their sympathy and care like water, on the patient who, for his manliness and bravery, they had come to respect, and for his suffering learned to love with a parent’s tenderness.
It now became a matter of time. Councils of physicians for twenty miles around sat in judgment on the case. They could only recommend; and more blisters, setons and various methods of external irritation for the withdrawal of internal pain followed, from month to month and season to season. All these were my preferred care.
84I realize now how carefully and apprehensively the whole family watched the little nurse, but I had no idea of it then. I thought my position the most natural thing in the world; I almost forgot that there was an outside to the house.
This state of things continued with little change—a trifling gain of strength in my patient at times—for two years, when, entirely unexpected, the most tabooed and little known of all medical treatments, restored him to health. It is to be remembered at that date there was no homeopathy, no hydropathy, no sanitariums, no Christian Science, nothing but the regular school of allopathic medicine. Medical practitioners, baffled by lack of science, surrounded by ignorance on all such subjects and more or less 85of superstition, struggled manfully on toward the blessed light of the scientific knowledge of to-day, which they have so richly attained.
It was not to be wondered at that the slightest departure from the beaten track, under these conditions, was held as unpardonable and punishable quackery; and that the first “ism” that broke through the defense fought the fight of a forlorn hope. There are young physicians of good historical knowledge to-day, who have never learned that “Thompsonianism” was that “ism”; that Dr. Samuel Thompson fought that fight, and that they are pursuing many excellent methods which are the result of his thought; that it was he who first advanced the theory (in this country at least,) that fever was not the foe, but the friend 86of the patient; that it was simply unequal animal warmth and vigor—that people did not have too much blood any more than they had too much bone, and could as ill afford to lose it; that if the blood were too thick, or too thin, or of a bad quality, taking away a portion of it would not rectify or purify the remainder. That a blister was not likely to soothe a nervous patient to sleep, or to extract a pain, save by creating a greater. But that a better way to treat disturbances was to open the pores generally, by a vapor bath—designated “Thompson’s Steam Box,” and greatly to be feared. He and his few followers were known as “Steam Doctors”—and the public warned against them.
It happened that one of his disciples, a “Steam Doctor,” residing in a 87neighboring town (I will write his name in grateful remembrance—Dr. Asa McCullum), had watched this remarkable case with interest and pity, convinced that the right remedies had not reached it.
He ventured at length to approach my father on the subject; then my brother, who was willing to attempt anything short of suicide. The result was the removal of the patient to the home asylum of the doctor for treatment. In three weeks he was so far restored as to return home and take his place in his business, like one come back from the dead. I remember the greetings—the tears of gladness on the blessed face of our family physician when he came to welcome him home: “And so, David, something good has come out of Nazareth.”
88I was again free; my occupation gone. Life seemed very strange and idle to me. I wondered that my father took me to ride so much, and that my mother hoped she could make me some new clothes now, for in the two years I had not grown an inch, had been to school one-half day, and had gained one pound in weight.
This singular mode of life, at so young an age, could not have been without its characteristic effects. In some respects it had served to heighten serious defects. The seclusion had increased the troublesome bashfulness. I had grown even more timid, shrinking and sensitive in the presence of others; absurdly careful and methodical for a child; afraid of giving trouble by letting my wants be known, thereby giving the very pain I sought 89to avoid, and instead of feeling that my freedom gave me time for recreation or play, it seemed to me like time wasted, and I looked anxiously about for some useful occupation.
As usual, my blessed sister, Mrs. Vassall, came to the rescue. Taking advantage of an all-absorbing love of poetry (which I always had) she made a weapon of it by providing me with the poetical works of Walter Scott, which I had not read, and proposed that we read them together. We naturally commenced with “The Lady of the Lake.” I was immediately transported to the Highlands and the Bonny Braes, plucking the heather and broom and guiding the skiff across Loch Katrine, listening to the sweet warning song of poor crazed Blanche of Devon, thrilling with, 90“Saxon, I am Roderick Dhu,” and trudging along with the old minstrel and Ellen to Sterling tower and the Court of Fitz-James. “Marmion” followed, and then all the train of English poetry that a child could take in.
My second individual ownership was “Billy.” His personality (which I never questioned), was represented by a high stepping brown Morgan horse, with glossy coat, slim legs, pointed ears, long curly black mane and tail, and weighing nearly nine hundred pounds.
Although a good driver, his forte was the saddle. His gait (or rather, I should say, gaits) was first a delightful single-foot; but which he had the faculty of changing to a rack, or pace or trot, as occasion or haste seemed 91to call for; and as a last resort, he could cover them all by something one does not like to name; but we only used that gait on extraordinary occasions. My father had purchased and given Billy to me when about ten years old. The same figures will do for us both.
I had three or four neighboring girl associates who also had their own or family horses, and our riding parties were the events of the season. Anticipating the deep, forbidding snows of the winter in New England, we had the custom of celebrating Thanksgiving day by a final party for the season. Even this was cold and had often some traces of snow.
On the present occasion there were but three of us, Martha, Eveline and 92myself. Martha had a fine sorrel trotter, Eveline a spirited single-footer. The day was cold and threatening. Our ride was to Worcester, some ten miles. When about three miles from home, on our return, a blinding snowstorm set in, literally a gale. This either frightened or excited Eveline’s horse, which, mastering the situation by a quick toss of the head, and catch of the bit (a trick he evidently understood), dropped his single-foot as something adapted to ladies and little girls, and fell to using all the feet he had, the best he knew. Awed by her peril, but powerless to aid, we could only follow our fleeing comrade to be ready to help when she should fall, as we were sure she must. The gale mercilessly increased; so did our speed. We kept 93nearly alongside, every horse upon the “dead run.”
We must have presented a striking miniature picture of the veritable “Three Furies” on a rampage. A country road and no one passing. Martha and myself each rushing directly past our own homes unobserved in the storm, till at length we rounded the curve that brought the flying horse in sight of his own stable. They had sighted the coming cavalcade. The gates were thrown wide open, and a man stationed on either side to catch both horse and rider when they should enter.
Seeing the worn-out girl once safely in her father’s arms, we turned away, with an entirely new chapter added to our very limited stock of equestrian knowledge. We were all alive and 94unharmed, and I alone am here now to tell the little stories of childhood’s terrifying dangers and miraculous escapes.
We were midway between the two district schools, a long mile and a half from either, and it frequently chanced that a season or two of indifferent schools followed each other in train. The experiment of sending me away to school was not to be repeated, and accordingly I was undertaken at home. My mathematical brother, Stephen, took charge of that department, and Mrs. Vassall the other needful studies, while my former patient, brother David, the equestrian of early days, now grown strong and well, kept to his rule of practical teaching. I recall vividly the half impatient 95frown on his fine face when he would see me do an awkward thing, however trivial. He detested false motions; wanted the thing done rightly the first time. If I started to go somewhere, go, and not turn back; if to do something, do it. I must throw a ball or a stone with an under swing like a boy and not a girl, and must make it go where I sent it, and not fall at my feet and foolishly laugh at it. If I would drive a nail, strike it fairly on the head every time, and not split the board. If I would draw a screw, turn it right the first time. I must tie a square knot that would hold, and not tie my horse with a slip noose and leave him to choke himself. These were little things, still a part of the instructions not to be undervalued. In the rather practical life which has 96sometimes fallen to me, I have wondered if they were not among the most useful, and if that handsome frown were not one of my best lessons.
At length there came a school that could be utilized, and my family instructors were relieved. The school to the north of us was undertaken by Mr. Lucian Burleigh, a younger member of the noted Burleigh family, and brother of William H. Burleigh, the poet. It seemed very strange to me to be in school again. I had been so long accustomed to govern myself, in a manner, that I wondered how any one should need others to govern them. If scholars came there to learn, why should they try, or want, to do anything else? There is no doubt that I seemed equally unaccountable and prudish to them.
MR. JONATHAN DANA,
MY OXFORD TEACHER.
97The quick perceptions of the teacher at once comprehended the conditions, and he treated me with the greatest consideration and kindness; advising such changes and additions as seemed suitable, and most in accord with the studies I had taken with me; even, as I could later see, forming some new classes in branches outside of the customary routine of the public school; as elementary astronomy, ancient history, and the “Science of Language”; his own literary and scholarly tastes pointing significantly to the latter. If Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” and Pollok’s “Course of Time” were ever dissected, transposed, analyzed and “parsed” by any class of vigilant youths, it was then and there.
The winter passed all too soon. A mile and a half through the snow had 98been only a pleasure. Our faithful, brotherly teacher left us, never to return; but the still brotherly friendship between teacher and pupil remained unbroken until his summons came.
After a busy summer a similarly good fortune awaited me in the next winter term of school. Mr. Jonathan Dana, one of Oxford’s most scholarly men and a teacher of note, commenced the winter school to the south of us. I have no words to describe the value of his instruction, nor the pains he took with his eager pupil. I had been far too thoroughly drilled to require time for the customary classes of the public school, but did require instruction in branches forbidden in their lawful curriculum.
In spite of the labor of a school of sixty pupils of all ages, with no assistant, 99I was permitted to take philosophy, chemistry and elementary Latin—all to be taught outside of school hours. With no laboratory at hand, I have often marveled at the amount of experimental instruction he found it possible to give me. So generally appreciated was the excellence of the school that the term was continued beyond the customary three months. My grateful homage for my inestimable teacher and his interest in his early pupil, became memories of a lifetime, and the social acquaintance was never interrupted until the late summons came to him, white haired and venerable, to go up higher.
My family were all gratified by my progress and my deportment as a student, but I was still diffident, timid, non-committal, afraid of giving 100trouble and difficult to understand. My physical growth had not met their expectations nor their hopes. I grew slowly and was still a “little girl” in appearance. This went to show how positive the early check had been, and how slowly the repairs were made, for it was said that I gained an inch in height between the ages of twenty and twenty-one.
The firm of my brothers, S. & D. Barton, had added to their ever increasing business the manufacture of cloth. A factory had been erected and a partnership entered into with Messrs. Paul and Samuel Parsons, two elegant gentlemen among the earlier manufacturers of satinet in this country, and the new factory was known as “The Satinet Mill of North 101Oxford.” A very superior article of cloth was made, the operatives almost entirely American, and very largely from families of the neighborhood or surrounding country. Occupations for women were few in those days, and often the school and music teacher, weary of the monotonous life, sought change in the more remunerative loom of the factory. I name this as a matter of history, as the North Oxford Mills were the third, if not the second after Slater, who produced the first spindle and power looms in America, at the risk of his life.
I had been taken through the new factory by my brother; had seen these young persons at work; watched the shuttles fly under the deft fingers of the weavers, and felt that there was something I could do. There was no 102school, I was idle. After a little quiet reflection I astonished the family by announcing my desire to go into the mill. I wanted to weave cloth. At first they tried laughing at me. I was too sensitive to be dealt with in that way. Then reasoning. I was “too small”; it was not a proper thing for me to do. But I was not easily dissuaded. One day in the midst of a family council, my brother Stephen chanced to call. He listened attentively, saw that I was anxious and troubled, and was giving trouble to others as well. At length he spoke. Addressing my mother, he said: “I do not see anything so very much out of the way in the request. I wonder if we are not drawing the lines too tightly on our little sister? A few years ago she wanted to learn to 103dance; this was denied as frivolous and improper; now she asks to work. She took up a work by herself and did it two years, a work that no child would be expected to do, and did it well. She is certainly a properly behaved little girl, and I cannot understand why we should trouble ourselves or her so much concerning the proprieties of her life. For my part, I am very willing to arrange a pair of looms for her and let her try.” A hush fell on the group. My anxious mother seemed relieved. The big brother had spoken. I crept shyly up under his stalwart arm and kissed his bearded cheek.
The next day a low platform was run along in front of a pair of new, glossy looms, just by the desk of the overseer of the room. A good weaver 104was given charge to instruct me, and when I stepped upon that platform and looked down upon the evenly drawn warp and the swiftly flying shuttles, and felt that they were mine, I imagine the sensation was akin to that of a young queen whose foot first presses the throne. I was too carefully watched to permit a mistake, and too interested to be tired. Before the end of the week I was able to discharge my instructress, or it is more probable she discharged herself in view of my self-sufficiency. I could scarcely wait in the morning for the bell to call me, early as it would be, and I walked up that long, outside flight of black, greasy stairs and entered that whirring, clashing room with as much pride and satisfaction as I would have entered the finest and 105most highly embellished schoolroom. I observed that the help all looked at me as I went in, and McDonald, the overseer, always raised his Scotch cap a bit by the tassel, or touched his finger to the rim, fitting so closely to his high forehead. I thought I ought to make some acknowledgement of this, and always did so, but could not understand it. I told my mother about it and asked her what he did it for? She said that it was probably because I was “so little.” That perhaps if I were as large as the other girls he might not do it. I thought this a reasonable solution and was satisfied.
I finished my first week, commenced my second, and went through with no assistance. On Saturday my webs were cut from the looms, examined 106and pronounced of first quality, showing great care. I took my proud record home. The next day (Sunday), Mr. Samuel Parsons, with the prudent care that could not trust even the watchman too implicitly, went into the mill by himself, ascending to the picker room in the top story, where the light, oiled wool was piled in great quantities. He casually placed his hand upon it in passing, and observing that it felt warm, he plunged his arm in to lift it. The flames enveloped him. He ran at full speed the length of the building to the bell rope. The fire was there almost before him. He gave two strokes, when the flames drove him from the room; they licked down the air shafts and belt holes, lapping up the oil like so much food, as it was.
107The perfection of the magnificent fire departments of the present day was far in the future then. In three hours it was all over, and the new North Oxford Satinet Mills were a smoking pile of rubbish, a thing of the past. No heart was heavier than mine. The strong, energetic brothers knew that rebuilding would commence at once, but I mourned without hope.
If ever there were lost or omitted a well-turned joke or a bit of humor by the various members of the Barton family it was clearly an accident, no such omission being ever intended; and thus it was suggested to me, that, as the fire was manifestly a case of spontaneous combustion, could it have been that I worked so fast that the friction set the mill on fire? That joke on me lasted many years. The 108mill was rebuilt, as well as several others, some to be burned, some to be sold; but I had found other occupations more congenial to the other members of the household, it is to be hoped, if not to me.
The recital of this incident by myself, or some one else, has given rise to the bit of romance cropping out occasionally, in the sketches one sees, that I was a factory girl and earned the money to pay off the mortgage on my father’s farm. I wish the first statement might have been true. Nothing to-day would gratify me more than to know that I had been one of those self-reliant, intelligent, American-born girls like our sweet poetess, Lucy Larcom, and like her had stood before the power looms in the early progress of the manufactories of our 109great and matchless country. I fear that my plain, simple facts will rob many a fancy sketch of its brightest tints, as in this instance. I am compelled to confess in regard to the second statement, that my father never had a mortgage that I knew of, and, therefore, had no need of my brave help. On the other hand, he had something to give to me.
I think it usually occurs in small communities that there is one family, or one house, to which all strangers or new comers naturally gravitate. Nothing was plainer than that ours was that house. All lecturers, upon any subject, clergymen on trial, whoever had a new idea to expound and was in need of an abiding place meanwhile, found one there. My father’s 110active and liberal mind inclined him to examination and toleration, and his cordial hospitality was seconded by my mother’s welcome to any one who could bring new thought or culture to herself or her family.
These were the very earliest days of phrenology. The famous brothers, O. S. and L. N. Fowler, worthy disciples of Spurzheim and Coombe, were commencing their lifelong work. Young men of advanced ideas, thought, energy and purpose.
The “Phrenological Journal,” if existing at all, was in its infancy. The Fowler brothers were among the most interesting and popular lecturers in the country. Two courses of lectures by L. N. Fowler were arranged for our town; one for North and the other for South Oxford, or 111“Oxford Plain,” as it is better known. He very naturally became the guest of my father and mother.
These two courses of lectures covered nearly a month of time. How can the value of the results of that month, extending through a lifetime, be put into words? How measure the worth of the ideas, the knowledge of one’s self, and of others, growing out of it? Aside from this was his aid and comfort to my mother in her perplexity concerning her incomprehensible child. I recall the long, earnest talks, in which it was evident that I was the prime subject, although not clearly realizing it at the time. Upon one occasion there was no question. I was ill (of mumps, I believe) and to avoid loneliness was permitted to lie on the lounge in the large sitting room 112through the day. Forgetting my presence, or believing me asleep, the conversation went on in my hearing, portions of which at this late day I recall. My mother remarked that none of her children had ever been so difficult to manage. “Was I disobedient, exacting or wayward?” asked Mr. Fowler. Oh no! she often wished I were, she would then know what to do, for I would make my wants known, and they could be supplied. But I was so timid and afraid of making trouble that they were in constant fear of neglecting me; I would do without the most needed article rather than ask for it, and my bashfulness increased rather than diminished as I grew older. As an illustration, she stated that only last Sunday the child appeared with bare 113hands when we were ready for church. Upon being asked where were her gloves, she reluctantly replied that she “had none. They were worn out.” Upon being asked why she had not said so and asked for others, the reply was a burst of tears and an attempt to leave the room. “We would not permit this unhappy day at home alone, and took her as she was,” said my mother. All this sounded very badly to me as I heard it rehearsed. It was all true, all wrong; would I, could I ever learn to do better?
Mr. Fowler replied that these characteristics were all indicated; that, however much her friends might suffer from them, she would always suffer more. “They may be apparently outgrown, but the sensitive nature will always remain. She will never 114assert herself for herself—she will suffer wrong first—but for others she will be perfectly fearless.” To my mother’s anxious question, “what shall I do?” he replied, “Throw responsibility upon her. She has all the qualities of a teacher. As soon as her age will permit, give her a school to teach.” I well remember how this suggestion shocked me. I should not have remembered all these advices, but years after they were found with much more among my mother’s carefully preserved papers; some correspondence must have followed. The depth and faithfulness of the interest felt, was shown in the fact that the great reader of human character, through his long life in foreign lands as well as his own, never forgot the troublesome child. Occasional correspondence 115and valued meetings across the sea marked the milestones of life, till one road came to an end. A great and true man and friend of humanity had gone, and the world was better for his having lived in it.
At the close of the second term of school, the advice was acted upon, and it was arranged that I teach the school in District No. 9. My sister resided within the district. How well I remember the preparations—the efforts to look larger and older, the examination by the learned committee of one clergyman, one lawyer and one justice of the peace; the certificate with “excellent” added at the close; the bright May morning over the dewy, grassy road to the schoolhouse, neither large nor new, and not a pupil in sight.
116On entering, I found my little school of forty pupils all seated according to their own selection, quietly waiting with folded hands. Bright, rosy-cheeked boys and girls from four to thirteen, with the exception of four lads, as tall and nearly as old as myself. These four boys naturally looked a little curiously at me, as if forming an opinion of how best to dispose of me, as rumor had it that on the preceding summer, not being en rapport with the young lady teacher, they had excluded her from the building and taken possession themselves. All arose as I entered, and remained standing until requested to sit. Never having observed how schools were opened, I was compelled, as one would say, to “blaze my own way.” I was too timid to address them, but 117holding my Bible, I said they might take their Testaments and turn to the Sermon on the Mount. All who could read, read a verse each, I reading with them in turn. This opened the way for remarks upon the meaning of what they had read. I found them more ready to express themselves than I had expected, which was helpful to me as well. I asked them what they supposed the Saviour meant by saying that they must love their enemies and do good to them that hated and misused them? This was a hard question, and they hesitated, until at length a little bright-eyed girl with great earnestness replied: “I think He meant that you must be good to everybody, and mustn’t quarrel nor make nobody feel bad, and I’m going to try.” An ominous smile crept 118over the rather hard faces of my four lads, but my response was so prompt, and my approval so hearty, that it disappeared and they listened attentively but ventured no remarks. With this moderate beginning the day progressed, and night found us social, friendly and classed for a school. Country schools did not admit of home dinners. I also remained. On the second or third day an accident on their outside field of rough play called me to them. They had been playing unfairly and dangerously and needed teaching, even to play well. I must have thought they required object lessons, for almost imperceptibly either to them or to myself, I joined in the game and was playing with them.
My four lads soon perceived that I 119was no stranger to their sports or their tricks; that my early education had not been neglected, and that they were not the first boys I had seen. When they found that I was as agile and as strong as themselves, that my throw was as sure and as straight as theirs, and that if they won a game it was because I permitted it, their respect knew no bounds. No courtesy within their knowledge was neglected. Their example was sufficient for the entire school. I have seen no finer type of boys. They were faithful to me in their boyhood, and in their manhood faithful to their country. Their blood crimsoned its hardest fields, and the little bright-eyed girl with the good resolve, has made her whole life a blessing to others, and still lives to follow the teaching 120given her. Little Emily has “made nobody feel bad.”
My school was continued beyond the customary length of time, and its only hard feature was our parting. In memory I see that pitiful group of children sobbing their way down the hill after the last good-bye was said, and I was little better. We had all been children together, and when, in accordance with the then custom at town meetings, the grades of the schools were named and No. 9 stood first for discipline, I thought it the greatest injustice, and remonstrated, affirming that there had been no discipline, that not one scholar had ever been disciplined. Child that I was, I did not know that the surest test of discipline is its absence.
If the published school report, so 121misunderstood by me, had given me displeasure, it had also given me a local reputation, quite as unexpected. I soon found myself the recipient of numerous invitations to teach in the nearby towns, especially such schools as required the “discipline” so largely accredited to, and so little deserved, by me.
Declination, on my part, was not to be thought of. All members of the family were only too grateful for the progress I had made towards proper self-assurance to permit any backsliding, and it was early settled that I accept the application of the honorable committee, to teach the next summer school at what was known as the “Mill-ward” in the adjoining town of Charlton, commencing on the first Monday in May of the following year—a 122“master” teaching the winter term.
One day, early in September, my brother David, now one of the active, popular business men of the town, nearly took my breath away by inviting me to accompany him on a journey to the state of Maine, to be present at his wedding and with him bring back the wife who was to grace his home and share his future life.
There was now more lengthening of skirts, and a rush of dressmaking such as I had never known before; and when, two weeks later, I found myself with my brother and a rather gay party of ladies and gentlemen, friends of his, at one of the most elegant hotels in Boston (where I had never been) waiting the arrival of a delayed 123steamer, I was so overcome by the dread of committing some impropriety or indiscretion which might embarrass my brother that I begged him to permit me to go back home. I was not distressed about what might be thought of me. I did not seem to care much about that; but how it might reflect upon my brother, and the mortification that my awkwardness could not fail to inflict on him.
I had never set foot on a vessel or seagoing craft of any kind, and when, in the glitter of that finely equipped steamer, I really crossed over a corner of the great Atlantic ocean, the very waves of which touched other continents as well, I felt that my world was miraculously widening.
It was another merry party, and 124magnificent spans of horses that met and galloped away with us over the country to our destination.
But the crowning astonishment came when I was informed that it was the desire and decision of all parties, that I act as bridesmaid. That I assist in introducing the younger of the guests, and stand beside the tall, handsome young bride who was to be my sister, while she pledged her troth to the brother dearer to me than my own life.
This responsibility seemed to throw the whole world wide open to me. How well I remember the tearful resolution with which I pledged myself to try to overcome my troublesome propensities and to strive only for the courage of the right, and for the fearlessness of true womanhood so much needed and earnestly desired, and so painfully lacking.
MY YOUNGER BROTHER AND RIDING MASTER.
125November found us home again. Under the circumstances, there must naturally be a share of social gayeties during the winter, and some preparations for my new school duties; and I waited with more or less apprehension for what would be my first life among strangers, and the coming of my anticipated “First of May.” With slight variation I could have joined truthfully in the dear old child refrain: