Read CHAPTER FIVE of Watch Yourself Go By , free online book, by Al G Field, on

No wonder Cain went to the bad
And left no cause to praise him;
No neighbors, who had ever had
Boys of their own, came telling Ad
And Eve how they should raise him.

“Al-f-u-r-d” learned with his first swimming lesson that kinship does not lend immunity; in fact, Lin asserted that Cousin Charley’s kinship was only a cloak of deception. However, the more Cousin Charley teased the younger boy the greater “Al-f-u-r-d’s” admiration and yearning for his companionship.

Lin cautioned “Al-f-u-r-d” to shun Cousin Charley as he would a “wiper.” Lin could never pronounce her v’s. When she went to the grocery and asked for “winegar,” the young clerk laughed outright. The next visit Lin simply said:

“Smell the jug and gin me a quart.”

When the mother admitted she feared Cousin Charley would ruin “Al-f-u-r-d’s” disposition, Lin followed with the declaration that Cousin Charley “layed awake nights makin’ up lies about “Al-f-u-r-d” to git his pap to whup him.”

Lin said: “Why, he don’t do a thing all the live-long day but git ‘Al-f-u-r-d’ in scrapes and muss his curls.”

After the swimming hole experience “Al-f-u-r-d’s” parent forbade Cousin Charley the house. Uncle Bill, who was responsible for Cousin Charley’s being, also ordered Cousin Charley to seek a home elsewhere, enforcing the order by advising Cousin Charley that he had done all that he intended to do for him.

In forceful words Cousin Charley was told that he must “dig for himself,” that “he could not stay anywhere no matter how good the job, that he always got into some kind of a scrape and his father was tired of it.”

“Go out in the world and dig for yourself like I did. Then you’ll hold a job when you get one.”

Cousin Charley took genuine delight in being thus exiled. He endeavored to work on the sympathies of all with whom he conversed, reporting that Uncle John and Aunt Mary had driven him from their house and that his father had driven him from home, advising him to dig for himself.

Charley dwelt so upon the phrase “dig for yourself” that it became a sort of cant saying.

Cousin Charley called at “Al-f-u-r-d’s” home to gather his essential personal effects. His woe-begone looks so touched “Al-f-u-r-d” that tears more than once filled his eyes as the elder boy continued his preparations to leave. “Al-f-u-r-d’s” sorrow so touched the mother that she began to relent.

But Cousin Charley, like many other persons who have injured their family when taken to task, felt a sort of pride in doing something he imagined would cause them further pain. Cousin Charley was obdurate to any overtures towards a reconciliation, or at least pretended to be. Go he would. He had poor “Al-f-u-r-d” entirely miserable as he listened to the recitation of the many wrongs he declared he had suffered.

“I’ve worked harder than any boy in Brownsville. I never knowed anything but work. Pap lets Jim and George do as they durn please. If I crook my fingers I ketch the devil. I kin go out and dig fer myself and they’ll be sorry for the way they have treated me.”

“Al-f-u-r-d” clung to the bigger boy, begging him not to leave. The sight affected both Lin and the mother, and the latter ventured the prediction that she might prevail upon Pap to allow Cousin Charley to remain if he would solemnly promise to be a better boy. Cousin Charley was not to be mollified. He thanked the mother for her kindly interest in him but added that he could not remain under Uncle Johns’ roof after the cruel manner in which he had been treated. (As a matter of fact his treatment had always been of the kindest). Cousin Charley knew this full well but he knew also that he had the sympathy of the two women excited and he chose to work it to his evil nature’s content.

Continuing, he added insinuatingly:

“You’ll see. Wait ’til ‘Al-f-u-r-d’s’ a little older. Uncle will keep on whaling him in the cellar and some day you’ll find him missing, curls and all.”

This reference to curls touched Lin’s sympathy. The reference to “Al-f-u-r-d” leaving home also touched the mother as the tantalizer intended it should, and she further argued with the boy to remain at home with his family.

“No I can’t. I’ve made up my mind to dig fer myself. I’m goin’ West. You’ve always treated me right and I’ll write you often and let you know how I’m gettin’ along and maybe if ‘Al-f-u-r-d’ is driven from home like I’ve been I’ll have a place fer him.”

The mother turned a trifle resentful as she said spiritedly:

“Charley, you have not been driven from home. Your father has become tired of your conduct and it would be better if you apologize for your behavior and promise to become a better boy.”

Cousin Charley hinted at some deep and dark wrong that would ever prevent his approaching his father and he prepared to leave. Both women entreated him to linger yet another day. But Cousin Charley began bidding them good-bye, the crocodile tears coursing down his cheeks as he sobbed:

“I’ll never fergit you two. You’ve always been good to me.” (As a matter of fact, Lin threatened to scald him that morning.) “I know I may be half starved to death before I git work but I’ll stand it. And durn them all, I’ll show them I’m somebody afore they see me agin.”

At the reference to starving, Lin rushed to the big kitchen cupboard. The larger part of a roasted chicken, a dozen doughnuts, pickles, rusks, enough to feed an ordinary man several times, was done up in a neat package and handed to Charley by Lin as she pityingly remarked:

“Ef the bakin’ was done I’d gin ye more fer I’ll warrant it’ll be a long time ’fore ye’ll eat cooking like ye’ve hed here. Fer vagrants never know what they’re eatin’.”

Charley’s leave-taking was most affecting. “Al-f-u-r-d” begged to be permitted to accompany him a little ways on his journey. Five minutes the boys walked hand in hand.

Into Sammy Steele’s deserted tannery, through a long, dark room with dust and rubbish covering the floor, into a smaller room, more dismal if imaginable than the larger room but much cleaner.

Three boxes, the larger used as a table, the two smaller ones as seats, made up the furniture in the room. A small blaze of fire in the old-fashioned soft coal grate gave a faint light. Cousin Charley whistled a time or two, and Lint Dutton, the son of the leading dry goods merchant of the town; and Tod Livingston, the son of the dry goods man’s head clerk, put in an appearance.

It was not long until “Al-f-u-r-d’s” sympathetic heart was touched with the wrongs of the three exiles. It seemed the trio had all been driven from home and were going out into the world to dig for themselves. Charley explained there were many things to adjust ere the exiles departed and the room in the old tannery would be their retreat until they left the town for good.

To impress “Al-f-u-r-d” with the fact that provisions were the one thing necessary, Lin’s contribution was spread out on the larger box and all proceeded to devour the viands. Even “Al-f-u-r-d” enjoyed the repast.

“Al-f-u-r-d” was sworn to secrecy as to the retreat of the exiles and adjured to bring all the eatables he could secure. The sight of Cousin Charley consuming a dried apple pie such as were made in those days, plenty of lemon peel and cider to juice the apples; Charley holding the pie in his hands, the juice running down his cheeks as he expatiated on the wrongs that had been heaped upon him in general and by “Al-f-u-r-d’s” and his own father in particular, so worked on “Al-f-u-r-d’s” sympathy that nothing cooked or uncooked that was eatable, that he could smuggle to the exiles, was too good for them.

For the first time since Lin came into the family the mother suspected her of dishonest practices. A coldness sprang up between the women. This unpleasantness almost drove the boy to confession, but the fear of the exiles kept him from exposing them.

The father set a watch on “Al-f-u-r-d.” He was seen to fill his pockets and a small basket, hide the basket in the coal shed until the shadows of dusk. The father followed the smuggler to the exiles’ camp. Several other boys who had learned of the pies, pickles, preserves, doughnuts, and other good things that “Al-f-u-r-d” carried to the old tannery, had gone into exile and were always conveniently near when “Al-f-u-r-d” appeared with his food contributions.

The father was close onto “Al-f-u-r-d” when he entered the larger room of the old tan house. “Al-f-u-r-d” set the basket with the coarser food in it on the box that served as a table while he began issuing the more dainty contributions from his pockets. Handing Cousin Charley a doughnut from one pocket he was in the act of pulling a handful of pickles from another when the irate parent rushed into the little room. The exiles’ camp was broken up, and the exiles driven out into the cold world. “Al-f-u-r-d” was escorted home then to the cellar where the séance was a trifle more animated than usual, at least “Al-f-u-r-d’s” cries so denoted.

Lin’s denunciations of those who had devastated her pantry of the coarse as well as her daintiest cooking, was of the strongest. Lin was very proud of her skill as a cook. When the truth came out and she learned that “Al-f-u-r-d” was the culprit, she immediately began making excuses for the boy, and when his screams from the cellar penetrated the kitchen, Lin’s sympathy was fully aroused. With the rolling pin in one hand, flour to her elbows on her bare, muscular arms, she rushed into the cellar, with flushed face and confronted the parent:

“Hold on yer, hold on! Ye’ve whipped that boy enough and you’re whippin’ him fer nothin’. Ef it hadn’t bin fer them low, lazy skunks “Al-f-u-r-d” a-never teched a thing in this house. They never had nothin’ to eat at home. Their folks is too lazy to fry a doughnut or put up pickles. “Al-f-u-r-d” jes pitied ’em, that’s why he took things to ’em to eat.”

This reasoning mollified the parent, besides Lin had a gleam in her eyes that intimidated him. Lin had threatened to skedaddle, as she put it, several times of late, and one like her was not often found.

Therefore Lin’s reasoning decided the father to wreak vengeance on those who, through “Al-f-r-u-d’s” generosity, had depleted the pickle barrel. Grabbing his heaviest cane he stalked toward the door, vowing he would wear out every last one of the boys who had made him so far forget himself as to punish one whose age and inexperience made him their dupe.

The mother and Lin, thoroughly frightened at the anger displayed by the man, used their strength and arguments to prevent him doing something terrible. The mother pointed out the danger of the law and the disgrace attached to an arrest by the borough constable.

Lin reminded him that he might do something rash, that all the boys had papas and several men might jump on him if they caught him abusing their off-spring. The father swore he could lick the daddies of all the boys one at a time.

Meanwhile “Al-f-u-r-d” made his escape to the garret to ruminate upon the unreasonableness of parents in general and his father in particular.

Uncle Bill was even more obdurate than when he first declared Charley must “dig for himself.” Cousin Charley was looking for work, fearing he would find it, and secretly hoping his father, under pressure of the mother, would soon open the door of home to him. But Cousin Charley was compelled to look the world in the face in a serious manner for the first time in his life.

Captain Lew Abrams, a retired steamboat man, big of frame, kind of heart and fond of a joke, informed the exile that he would give him an opportunity to follow his father’s advice literally, namely, to dig for himself.

“I have a big potato patch, the crop is a heavy one and it don’t seem my boys will ever get the potatoes dug. I will give you a job digging potatoes by the bushel or on shares.”

The Captain did not care to hire by the day. Cousin Charley figured mentally that digging potatoes on shares, a custom prevalent in those days, would bring quicker returns.

Charley began to “dig for himself” the very next day. After a long, hard day’s work, he presented himself at the back door of “Al-f-u-r-d’s” home, sunburnt and hands blistered, clothing torn, full of beggars-lice and Spanish needles. He explained that the offer of Captain Abrams was temptingly profitable and that he would remain in the neighborhood for a few weeks longer digging potatoes on the shares.

Lin at first looked upon him with suspicion. But when she noted his sunburnt face and blistered hands and when Charley carefully laid on the table a half dozen big brown-colored potatoes with that peculiar purple around the eyes, a color so highly prized by growers and consumers, Lin, glancing sympathetically at Charley through the kitchen door as he ate as only a hungry boy can, whispered to the mother:

“His pap’s too hard on him. He’s not so ornery as he’s cracked up to be. It’s the devilish clique he runs with that’s spiled him,” and, with this, carried another helping of food to the boy.

Half in earnest, half in fun, Lin said: “Durn ye, ye can be good ef ye want to, but it jes’ seems like ye don’t want to. Ef ye ever do another thing to ‘Al-f-u-r-d’ I’ll scald all the hair off yer freckled head.”

Cousin Charley laughed and chided Lin into further good humor, confiding to her the interesting information that he was going to work from daylight to dark. This declaration captured Lin. She highly regarded anyone who labored.

Cousin Charley kept up a continual talk. Among other statements he said that after he dug Captain Abram’s potatoes, if he could effect as advantageous arrangements with other farmers, he would soon be wealthy. He even insinuated that he had over-reached the Captain in his contract for digging potatoes but if the Captain showed any tendency to “back out” he would hold him to it.

“A bargain’s a bargain,” said Charley and Lin nodded approvingly. She never guessed that Cousin Charley possessed so much sense.

Charley picked up the largest of the potatoes he had deposited on the table and requested that Lin roast it in wood ashes for breakfast.

“It’ll jes’ bust open and is as dry as powder. Sech taters you never et, they melt in yer mouth.”

It was then the mother was called in, Lin explaining it was a good chance to buy potatoes cheap. Cousin Charley explained that his share of the crop he was digging would be so big he would have to sell as he went along even if he didn’t get full price for them. He assured the women that the samples were not culled: “Jes’ took as they come.”

The mother bought several bushels at much less than the retail price at Murphy’s store. At the low price at which Cousin Charley sold potatoes he had taken several orders before reaching “Al-f-u-r-d’s” home. When “Al-f-u-r-d’s” mother purchased he suddenly concluded he’d better begin delivering right away.

When the mother reminded him that it was almost night Cousin Charley met her with the argument “Ef a feller wants to git along in this world he’s got to hump night and day. That’s the way old Jeffries got rich.” Jeffries was the business competitor of “Al-f-u-r-d’s” father.

Cousin Charley finally prevailed on the mother to loan him the horse and wagon to deliver his potatoes. The father was out of town for the night, and the mother consented reluctantly. Lin wanted the potatoes badly after Charley’s description. “Al-f-u-r-d,” as usual, cried to go with Cousin Charley. Cousin Charley’s seeming industriousness had reinstated him in Lin’s good graces. After the boys had driven off, following Lin’s caution to the older boy to “Be keerful of ’Al-f-u-r-d’,” she remarked to the mother, referring to Charley:

“He’ll fool old Bill yet. Some peepul may want Charley to dig fer ’em ’fore the winter’s over. I’d thought more of old Bill ef he’d lathered Charley good an’ plenty stid of turnun’ him out to dig fer himself. I do hope he’ll sell plenty pertaters.”

Meanwhile, Cousin Charley, his delivery wagon, “Al-f-u-r-d” and all, arrived at Captain Abram’s house. The family were visiting a neighbor.

Cousin Charley was evidently an adept at loading potatoes as well as digging. It was surprising the quantity he claimed for his share of the day’s digging.

“Al-f-u-r-d,” Cousin Charley, and a load of potatoes soon arrived at “Al-f-u-r-d’s” home. Several large sacks were quickly carried into the cellar, Lin assisting the boy. Lin took this excuse to inspect the goods as her confidence in Cousin Charley was not entirely free from suspicion. As Lin watched the boy carrying the heavy potato sacks she half hated herself for doubting him. This feeling prompted Lin to accept the potatoes.

“They’re not zackly as big as the ones he fetched first but they’re nice taters, better’n we git at the store an’ besides a body feels better helpin’ a poor devil that’s workin’ his head off to do right.”

Jane McCune, Tommy Ryan and Jim Bench had bought potatoes while they were cheap. These deliveries were soon made and Cousin Charley had money to distribute. “Al-f-u-r-d” and Lin both came in for a nice piece of it. As Lin remarked:

“Cousin Charley was not close when he was doin’ well.”

The women invited Charley to remain all night but, showing the old exile spirit, he declined, adding:

“I like you and Lin, but I’ll never stay under Uncle John’s roof until he apologizes fer what he done to me. I’ll dig fer myself. There’s money in this potato business fer me, I’ll show them who I am.”

The boy jingled the big coppers and little dimes in his pocket until “Al-f-u-r-d’s” eyes sparkled with admiration.

The next morning Captain Abrams clanged the big, old fashioned iron knocker on the front door. The father started up stairs to answer the knock, and “Al-f-u-r-d” and the other children whooped up the path beside the house to peep at the early caller.

The door opened. “Howdys” and hand shakes. The Captain, puckering up his funny little mouth, not unlike that of a sucker fish, addressing himself to the father, inquired:

“John, where’s Bill’s Charley?”

The “I don’t know” answer surprised the Captain.

Looking at “Al-f-u-r-d” in a quizzical manner, he said:

“I thought he was staying with you all.”

The father replied spiritedly, and he seemed to be addressing himself to “Al-f-u-r-d” as much as to the Captain:

“No, he ain’t here any more. I wouldn’t permit him to enter my house; he’s so infernal ornery that his father had to drive him out. Bill jes’ told him to go out and dig fer himself. We’ve washed our hands of that boy. His end will be the House of Refuge.”

“But John,” and the Captain looked serious, “who sent Alfred and Charley out on a foraging expedition last night with your old mare and wagon?”

Both men looked hard at “Al-f-u-r-d.”

With a consciousness born of innocence, “Al-f-u-r-d” pulled himself up to his full height, running his thumbs under his first pair of elastic suspenders, a present from Cousin Charley, who had remarked as he adjusted them: “None of my relations will run around here with one gallus when I’ve got money.”

“Yes, sir,” chirped “Al-f-u-r-d,” “we was out to your house but you weren’t at home. Cousin Charley went after his pertaters. He wanted to bring mother hers and Jane McCune and Tommy Ryan.”

The Captain was nodding his head approvingly at “Al-f-u-r-d,” encouraging him to go on. The father was so confused he could not listen longer, and casting a look at “Al-f-u-r-d” that boded him no good, the mother and Lin were called into the room, and the Captain, in a half apologetic manner explained:

“Charley came to me with a long story about his father driving him from home and telling him he would have to go out and dig for himself. He used the phrase, ‘dig for himself’ so often that I, in a half joking way, arranged with Charley to dig potatoes on shares. He dug one day. I don’t know how many potatoes he dug as me and my folks were visiting the Lenhearts. Afore we got home last night, Charley came out there with your horse and wagon and hauled away all the potatoes he dug during the day and all my boys had dug and sacked the past week. I don’t know how many he took but old man Bedler at the toll gate said the boys had on a full load.”

Then “Al-f-u-r-d” counting on his fingers, said: “Yes, mother got seven bushels, Tommy Ryan got eight bushels and he’s to get two more bushels tomorrow night, and Jim Bench five bushels and will take all Cousin Charley kin bring him. And Jane McCune got five bushels and she didn’t have the money. But Charley says if she don’t pay him he’ll steal her dog.”

The Captain was laughing heartily but politely. The father and mother looked as if they had been convicted of larceny.

Lin jerked out: “Well, ef that don’t beat the bugs. A-stealin’ pertaters. I’d as soon be ketched stealin’ sheep. I tell ye now, that Charley’s headed fer the pinitentiary.”

This speech seemed to crush the father and mother. They felt somehow as if they were implicated. But Captain Abrams apologized in every way for annoying them. They all seated themselves, the blinds pulled down and a solemn compact entered into that the matter never be referred to again. The father paid for the potatoes, taking “Al-f-u-r-d’s” figures. “Al-f-u-r-d” was warned if he ever mentioned the affair outside of home that he would be sent to the House of Refuge.

The family felt that they were everlastingly disgraced. The mother felt it most keenly. The father was half disposed to hold “Al-f-u-r-d” partly responsible and a trip to the cellar was strongly threatened. But Lin interfered by saying:

“Why, his mother and me is wus than ‘Al-f-u-r-d’. Any grown body’d knowed Charley couldn’t dig that many pertaters in a week, let alone a day.”

Time wore on and the potato episode was seemingly forgotten. The family felt that the disgrace had been lived down and all were thankful the matter had not become the talk of the town.

Uncle Bill, Charley’s father, was a good talker, fond of argument and usually the center of a group, particularly when political or religious subjects were under discussion. A long bench in front of Bill Isler’s tin shop, ranged close up to the building. The town pump stood across the ten feet wide sidewalk opposite.

It was a pleasing sight to look upon this gathering of inequality of rank and property and equality of intellect discussing all questions, the affairs of their neighbors in particular.

There was a full bench: Joe Gibbons, Barney Barnhart, Jase Baker, Billy Graham, Birney Wilkins, and George Muckle Fee. Fee was a peculiar character, with an unusual deformity, since his neck was bent like a huge bow, not unlike a limb with the knee bent, his face looking to the ground. To look to either side he must turn his entire body. The only human being he ever thought kindly of was his wife, Susan. He always spoke of her respectfully. Some people he hated more intensely than others. Uncle Bill was an especial mark of his vituperation. When they passed on the street George would turn his body half way around to mutter and curse him however, not that Uncle Bill could hear.

George’s usual position at the gathering in the evening was back against the old pump facing those seated on the bench, with lowered face and upturned eyes, looking from one speaker to another, scowling or smiling as the remarks met with his approval or otherwise.

The subject under discussion was “boys.” A number of boys of the town, almost grown men, had been apprehended stealing scrap iron.

Uncle Bill, as usual, had the center of the stage. He had about concluded a lengthy discourse as to the management of boys, bad boys in particular, and as usual concluded by relating for the hundredth time, how he managed his boys.

“I just called ’em up and says: ’Boys, I’ve raised you up to what you are and I’ve done for you all a parent could do. You’re strong and able to do for yourselves and don’t depend on me longer. Go out in the world and dig for yourselves.’”

Fee, squirting a flood of tobacco juice with the words, said: “Yes, and ef they’d all dig like Charley did, you’d had purtaters to last you a life time.”

The roars of laughter that went up were convincing proof that there are no secrets sacred in a small town.