THE LIFE OF CRIME IS APPRAISED AND CHOSEN
It came to seem expedient to Bernal,
however, in the first spring of his new life, to make
a final choice between early death and a life, of sin.
Matters came to press upon him, and since virtue was
useful only to get one into Heaven, it was not worth
the effort unless one meant to die at once. This
was an alternative not without its lures, despite the
warnings preached all about him. It would surely
be interesting to die, if one had come properly to
the Feet. Even coming to but one of the Feet,
as he had, might make it still more interesting.
Perhaps he would not, for this reason, be always shut
up in Heaven. In his secret heart was a lively
desire to see just what they did to Milo Barrus, if
he should continue to spell God with a little
g on his very death-bed that is, if he could
see it without disadvantage to himself: But then,
you could save that up, because you must die
sometime, like Xerxes the Great; and meantime, there
was the life of evil now opening wide to the vision
with all enticing refreshments.
First, it meant no school. He
had ceased to picture relief in this matter by the
school-house burning some morning, preferably a Monday
morning, one second after school had taken in.
For a month he had daily dramatised to himself the
building’s swift destruction amid the kind and
merry flames. But Allan, to whom he had one day
hinted the possibility of this gracious occurrence,
had reminded him brutally that they would probably
have school in the Methodist church until a new school-house
could be built. For Allan loved his school and
But a life of evil promised other
joys besides this negative one of no school.
In his latest Sunday-school book, Ralph Overton, the
good boy, not only attended school slavishly, so that
at thirteen he “could write a good business
hand”; but he practised those little tricks of
picking up every pin, always untying the string instead
of cutting it, keeping his shoes neatly polished and
his hands clean, which were, in a simpler day, held
to lay the foundations of commercial success in our
republic. Besides this, Ralph had to be bright
and cheery to every one, to work for his widowed mother
after school; and every Saturday afternoon he went,
sickeningly of his own accord, to split wood for an
aged and poor lady. This lady seemed to Bernal
to do nothing much but burn a tremendous lot of stove-wood,
but presently she turned out to be the long-lost cousin
of Mr. Granville Parkinson, the Great Banker from
the City, who thereupon took cheery Ralph there and
gave him a position in the bank where he could be
honest and industrious and respectful to his superiors.
Such was the barren tale of Virtue’s gain.
But contrasted with Ralph Overton in this book was
one Budd Jackson, who led a life of voluptuous sloth,
except at times when the evil one moved him to activity.
At these bad moments he might go bobbing for catfish
on a Sabbath, or purloin fruit from the orchard of
Farmer Haskins (who would gladly have given some to
him if he had but asked for it civilly, so the book
said); or he might bully smaller boys whom he met
on their way to school, taking their sailor hats away
from them, or jeering coarsely at their neatly brushed
garments. When Budd broke a window in the Methodist
parsonage with his slung-shot and tried to lie it
on to Ralph Overton, he seemed to have given way utterly
to his vicious nature. He was known soon thereafter
to have drunk liquor and played a game called pin-pool
with a “flashy stranger” at the tavern;
hence no one was surprised when he presently ran off
with a circus, became an infidel, and perished miserably
in the toils of vice.
This touch about the circus, well-intended,
to be sure, was yet fatal to all good the tale might
have done the little boy. Clytie, who read most
of the story to him, declared Budd Jackson to be “a
regular mean one.” But in his heart Bernal,
thinking all at once of the circus, sickened unutterably
of Virtue. To drive eight spirited white horses,
seated high on one of those gay closed wagons those
that went through the street with that delicious hollow
rumble hearing perchance the velvet tread,
or the clawing and snarling of some pent ferocity a
leopard, a lion, what not; to hear each day that muffled,
flattened beating of a bass drum and cymbals far within
the big tent, quick and still more quickly, denoting
to the experienced ear that pink and spangled Beauty
danced on the big white horse at a deathless gallop;
to know that one might freely enter that tented elysium if
it were possible he would run off with a circus though
it meant that he had the morals of a serpent!
Now, eastward from the big house lay
the village and its churches: thither was tame
virtue. But westward lay a broad field stretching
off to an orchard, and beyond swelled a gentle hill,
mellow in the distance. Still more remotely far,
at the hill’s rim, was a blur of woods beyond
which the sun went down each night. This, in
the little boy’s mind, was the highway to the
glad free Life of Evil. Many days he looked to
that western wood when the sky was a gush of colour
behind its furred edge, perceiving all manner of allurements
to beckon him, hearing them plead, feeling them tug.
Daily his spirit quickened within him to their solicitations,
leaping out and beyond him in some magic way to bring
back veritable meanings and values of the future.
Then a day came when the desire to
be off was no longer resistible. There was a
month of school yet; an especially bitter thought,
for had he not lately been out of school a week with
mumps; and during that very week had not the teacher’s
father died, so that he was cheated out of the resulting
three-days’ vacation, other children being free
while he lay on a bed of pain if you tasted
pickles or any sour thing? Not only was it useless
to try to learn to write “a good business hand,”
like Ralph Overton he took the phrase to
mean one of those pictured hands that were always pointing
to things in the newspaper advertisements but
there was the circus and other evil things and
he was getting on in years.
It was a Saturday afternoon.
To-morrow would be too late. He knew he would
not be allowed to start on the Sabbath, even in a career
that was to be all wickedness. In the grape-arbour
he massed certain articles necessary for the expedition:
a very small strip of carpet on which he meant to
sleep; a copy of “Golden Days,”
with an article giving elaborate instructions for
camping in the wilderness. He was compelled to
disregard all of them, but there was comfort and sustenance
in the article itself. Then there was the gun
that came at Christmas. It shot a cork as far
as the string would let it go, with a fairly satisfying
report (he would have that string off, once he was
in the woods!). Also there were three glass alleys,
two agate taws and thirty-eight commies. And to
hold his outfit there was a rather sizable box which
he with his own hands had papered inside and out from
a remnant of gorgeously flowered wall-paper.
When all was ready he went in to break
the news to Clytie. She, busy with her baking,
heard him declare:
“Now I’m going
to leave this place!” with the look of one who
will not be coaxed nor in any manner dissuaded.
He thought she took it rather coolly, though Allan
ran, as promptly as he could have wished, to tell his
“I’m going to be a regular
mean one worse’n Budd Jackson!”
he continued to Clytie. He was glad to see that
this brought her to her senses.
“Will you stay if I give you an orange?”
“No, sir; you’ll never
set eyes on me again!”
“Oh, now! two oranges?”
“I can’t I got to go!”
in a voice tense with effort.
“All right! Then I’ll give them to
She continued to take brown loaves
from the oven and to put other loaves in to bake,
while he stood awkwardly by, loath to part from her.
Allan came back breathless.
“Grandpa says you can go as
far as you like and you needn’t come back till
you get ready!”
He shifted from one foot to the other
and absently ate a warm cookie from the jarful at
his hand. He thought this seemed not quite the
correct attitude to take toward him, yet he did not
waver. They would be sorry enough in a few days,
when it was too late.
“I guess I better take a few
of these along with me,” he said, stowing cookies
in the pockets of his jacket. He would have liked
one of the big preserved peaches all punctuated with
cloves, but he saw no way to carry it, and felt really
unable to eat it on the spot.
“Well, good-bye!” he called
to Clytie, turning back to her from the door.
“Good-bye! Won’t you shake hands
Very solemnly he shook her big, floury hand.
“Now could I take
Penny along?” (Penny was an inconsequential dog
that had been given to Clytie by one whom she called
Cousin Bill J.)
“Yes, you’ll need a dog
to keep the animals off. Now be sure you write
to us at least twice a year don’t
forget!” And, brutally before his very eyes,
she handed the sniffing and virtuous Allan two of the
largest, most goldenly beautiful oranges ever beheld
Bitterly the self-exiled turned from
this harrowing scene and strode toward his box.
Here ensued a fresh complication.
Nancy, who had chosen the good name of Lillian May,
wanted to go with him. She, too, it appeared,
was fresh from a Sunday-school book one
in which a girl of her own age was so proud of her
long raven curls that she was brought to an illness
and all her hair came out. There was a distressing
picture of this little girl after a just Providence
had done its work as a depilatory. And after she
recovered from the fever, it seemed, she had cared
to do nothing but read the Scriptures to bed-ridden
old ladies even after a good deal of her
hair came in again though it didn’t
curl this time. The only pleasure she ever experienced
thereafter was that, by virtue of her now singularly
angelic character, she was enabled to convert an elderly
female Papist an achievement the joys of
which were problematic, both to Nancy and the little
boy. Certainly, whatever converting a Papist might
be, it was nothing comparable to driving a red-and-green-and-gold
wagon in which was caged the Scourge of the Jungle.
But Nancy could not go with him.
He told her so plainly. It was no place for a
girl beyond that hill where they commonly drove caged
beasts, and no one ever so much as thought of Coming
to the Feet or washing in the blood of the Lamb, or
writing a good business hand with the first finger
of it pointing out, or anything.
The little girl pleaded, promising
to take her new pink silk parasol, her buff buttoned
shoes, a Christmas card with real snow on it, shining
like diamonds, and Fragile, her best doll. The
thing was impossible. Then she wept.
He whistled to Penny, who came barking
joyously a pretender of a dog, if there
ever was one and they moved off. Weeping
after them went Nancy as far as the first
fence, between two boards of which she put her head
and sobbed with a heavenly bitterness; for to the
little boy, pushing sternly on, her tears afforded
that certain thrill of gratified brutality under conscious
rectitude, the capacity for which is among those matters
by which Heaven has set the male of our species apart
from the female. The sensation would have been
flawless but for Allan’s lack of dignity:
from the top board of the fence he held aloft in either
hand a golden orange, and he chanted in endless inanity:
Chink, Chink Chiraddam!
Don’t you wisht you had ’em?
Chink, Chink Chiraddam!
Don’t you wisht you
Still he was actually and triumphantly off.
And here should be recalled the saying
of a certain wise, simple man: “If our
failures are made tragic by courage they are not different
from successes.” For it came about that
the subsequent dignity of this revolt was to be wholly
in its courage.
The way led over a stretch of grassy
prairie to a fence. This surmounted, there came
a ploughed field, of considerable extent to one carrying
an inconvenient box. At the farther end of this
was another fence, and beyond this an ancient orchard
with a grassy floor, where lingered a few old apple-trees,
under which the recumbent cows, chewing and placid,
dozed like stout old ladies over their knitting.
Nearest the fence was an aged, gnarled
and riven tree, foolishly decked in blossoms, like
some faded, wrinkled dame, fatuously reluctant to leave
off girlish finery. Under its frivolous branches
on the grassy sward would be the place for his first
night’s halt for the magic wood just
this side of the sun was now seen to be farther off
than he had once supposed. So he spread his carpet,
arranged the contents of his box neatly, and ate half
his food-supply, for one’s strength must be kept
up in these affairs. As he ate he looked back
toward the big house now left forever and
toward the village beyond. The spires of the
three churches were all pointing sternly upward, as
if they would mutely direct him aright, but in their
shelter one must submit to the prosaic trammels of
decency. It was not to be thought of.
He longed for morning to come, so
that he might be up and on. He lay down on his
mat to be ready for sleep, and watched a big bird far
above, cutting lazy graceful figures in the air, like
a fancy skater. Then, on a bough above him, a
little dusty-looking bird tried to sing, but it sounded
only like a very small door creaking on tiny rusted
hinges. A fat, gluttonous robin that had been
hopping about to peer at him, chirped far more cheerfully
as it flew away.
Just at this point he suffered a real
adventure. Eight cows sauntered up interestedly
and chewed their cuds at him in unison, standing contemplative,
calculating, determined. It is a fact in natural
history not widely enough recognised that the domestic
cow is the most ferocious appearing of all known beasts a
thing to be proved by any who will survey one amid
strange surroundings, with a mind cleanly disabused
of preconceptions. A visitor from another planet,
for example, knowing nothing of our fauna, and confronted
in the forest simultaneously by a common red milch
cow and the notoriously savage black leopard of the
Himalyas, would instinctively shun the cow as a dangerous
beast and confidingly seek to fondle the pretty leopard,
thus terminating his natural history researches before
they were fairly begun.
It can be understood, then, that a
moment ensued when the little boy wavered under the
steady questioning scrutiny of eight large and powerful
cows, all chewing at him in unison. Yet, even
so, and knowing, moreover, that strange cows are ever
untrustworthy, only for a moment did he waver.
Then his new straw hat was off to be shaken at them
and he heaved a fierce “H-a-y y-u-p!”
At this they started, rather indignantly,
seeming to meditate his swift destruction; but another
shout turned and routed them, and he even chased them
a little way, helped now by the inconsiderable dog
who came up from pretending to hunt gophers.
After this there seemed nothing to
do but eat the other half of the provisions and retire
again for the night. Long after the sun went down
behind the magic wood he lay uneasily on his lumpy
bed, trying again and again to shut his eyes and open
them to find it morning which was the way
it always happened in the west bedroom of the big house
he had left forever.
But it was different here. And
presently, when it seemed nearly dark except for the
stars, a disgraceful thing happened. He had pictured
the dog as faithful always to him, refusing in the
end even to be taken from over his dead body.
But the treacherous Penny grew first restive, then
plainly desirous of returning to his home. At
last, after many efforts to corrupt the adventurer,
he started off briskly alone cornerwise,
as little dogs seem always to run fleeing
shamelessly toward that east where shone the tame
lights of Virtue.
Left alone, the little boy began strangely
to remember certain phrases from a tract that Clytie
had tried to teach him “the moment
that will close thy life on earth and begin thy song
in heaven or thy wail in hell” “impossible
to go from the haunts of sin and vice to the presence
of the Lamb” “the torments of
an eternal hell are awaiting thee”
“To-night may be thy latest breath,
Thy little moment here be
Eternal woe, the second death,
Awaits the Christ-rejecting
This was more than he had ever before
been able to recall of such matters. He wished
that he might have forgotten them wholly. Yet
so was he turned again to better things. Gradually
he began to have an inkling of a possibility that
made his blood icy a possibility that not
even the spectacle of Milo Barrus having interesting
things done to him could mitigate namely,
a vision of himself in the same plight with that person.
Now it was that he began to hear Them
all about him. They walked stealthily near, passed
him with sinister rustlings, and whispered over him.
If They had only talked out but they whispered even
laughing, crying and singing in whispers. This
horror, of course, was not long to be endured.
Yet, even so, with increasing myriads of Them all about,
rustling and whispering their awful laughs and cries it
was no ignominious rout. With considerable deliberation
he folded the carpet, placed it in the box with his
other treasure, and started at a pace which may, perhaps,
have quickened a little, yet was never undignified never
more than a moderately fast trudge.
He wondered sadly if Clytie would
get up to unlock the door for him so late at night.
As for Penny, things could never be the same between
He was astounded to see lights burning
and the house open how weird for them to
have supper at such an hour! He concealed his
box in the grape-arbour and slunk through the kitchen
into the dining-room. Probably they had gotten
up in the middle of the night, out of tardy alarm for
him. It served them right. Yet they seemed
hardly to notice him when he slid awkwardly into his
chair. He looked calculatingly over the table
and asked, in tones that somehow seemed to tell of
injury, of personal affront:
“What you having supper for at this time of
His grandfather regarded him now not
unkindly, while Clytie seemed confused.
“It’s more’n long past midnight!”
“Huh! it ain’t only a
quarter past seven,” put in his superior brother.
He seemed about to say more, but a glance from the
grandfather silenced him.
So that was as late as he had
stayed a quarter after seven? He was
ready now to rage at any taunt, and began to eat in
haughty silence. He was still eating when his
grandfather and Allan left the table, and then he
began to feel a little grateful that they had not noticed
or asked annoying questions, or tried to be funny
or anything. Over a final dish of plum preserves
and an imposing segment of marble cake he relented
so far as to tell Clytie something of his adventures especially
since she had said that the big hall-clock was very
likely slow that it must surely be a lot
later than a quarter past seven. The circumstances
had combined to produce a narrative not entirely perspicuous the
two clear points being that They do everything in
a whisper, and that Clytie ought to get rid of Penny
at once, since he could not be depended upon at great
As to ever sleeping under a tree,
Clytie discouraged him. She knew of some Boys
that once sat under a tree which was struck by lightning,
all being Killed save one, who had the rare good luck
to be the son of a Presbyterian clergyman. The
little boy resolved next time to go beyond the trees
to sleep; perhaps if he went far enough he would come
to the other one of the Feet, and so have a safeguard
against lightning, foreign cows, and Those that walk
with rustlings and whisper in the lonely places at
The little boy fell asleep, half-persuaded
again to virtue, because of its superior comforts.
The air about his head seemed full of ghostly “good
business hands,” each with its accusing forefinger
pointed at him for that he had not learned to write
one as Ralph Overton did.
Down the hall in his study the old
man was musing backward to the delicate, quiet girl
with the old-fashioned aureole of curls, who would
now and then toss them with a little gesture eloquent
of possibilities for unrestraint when she felt the
close-drawn rein of his authority. Again he felt
her rebellious little tugs, and the wrench of her final
defiance when she did the awful thing. He had
been told by a plain speaker that her revolt was the
fault of his severity. And here was the flesh
of her flesh was it in the same spirit
of revolt against authority, a thousandfold magnified?
Might he not by according the boy a wise liberty save
him in after years from some mad folly akin to his