took the time and patience to walk the length of that long train to get me on to the engine.

“Charlie,” said he, addressing the engineer, “don't you ever take a passenger?”

“Very seldom,” he replied.

“Anyhow, I wish you would take this young man on. He has the strangest machines in the baggage car I ever saw in my life. I believe he could make a locomotive. He wants to see the engine running. Let him on. Then, in a low whisper, he told me to jump on, which I did gladly, the engineer offering neither encouragement nor objection.

As soon as the train was started the engineer asked what the “strange thing” the conductor spoke of was.

“Only inventions for keeping time, getting folks up in the morning, and so forth,” I hastily replied; and before he could ask any more questions I asked permission to go outside of the cab to see the machinery.

This he kindly granted, adding, “Be careful not to fall off, and when you hear me whistling for a station you come back, because if it is reported against me to the superintendent that I allow boys to run all over my engine, I might lose my job.”

Assuring him that I would come back promptly, I went out and walked along the footboard on the side of the boiler, watching the magnificent machine rushing through the landscape as if glorying in its strength like a living creature. While seated on the cow-catcher platform I seemed to be fairly flying, and the wonderful display of power and motion was enchanting. This was the first time I had ever been on a train, much less a locomotive, since I had left Scotland.

When I got to Madison I thanked the kind conductor and engineer for my glorious ride, inquired the way to the fair, shouldered my inventions, and walked to the fair-ground.

When I applied for an admission ticket at a window by the gate I told the agent that I had something to exhibit.

“What is it?” he inquired.
“Well, here it is. Look at it."

When he craned his neck through the windcw and got a glimpse of my bundle he cried excitedly, “Oh! you don't need a ticket — come right in.” "

When I inquired where such things should be exhibited, he said, “You see that building up on the hill with a big flag on it? That's the Fine Arts Hall, and it's just the place for your wonderful invention.'

So I went up to the Fine Arts Hall and looked in, wondering if they would allow wooden things in so fine a place.

I was met at the door by a dignified gentleman who greeted me kindly and said, “Young man, what have we got here?"

“Two clocks and a thermometer," I replied.

“Did you make these? They look wonderfully beautiful and novel, and must, I think, prove the most interesting feature of the fair."

“Where shall I place them?” I inquired.

“Just look around, young man, and choose the place you like best, whether it is occupied or not. You can have your pick of all the building, and a carpenter to make the necessary shelving and assist you in every way possible!”

So I quickly had a shelf made large enough for all of them, went out on the hill and picked up some glacial boulders of the right size for weights, and in fifteen or twenty minutes the clocks were running. They seemed to attract more attention than anything else in the hall. I got lots of praise from the crowd and the newspaper reporters. The local press reports were copied into the Eastern papers. It was considered wonderful that a boy on a farm had been able to invent and make such things, and almost every spectator foretold good fortune. But I had been so lectured by my father to avoid praise, above all things, that I was afraid to read those kind newspaper notices, and never clipped out or preserved any of them, just glanced at them, and turned away my eyes from beholding vanity, and so forth. They gave me a prize of ten or fifteen dollars, and a diploma for wonderful things not down in the list of exhibits.

Many years later, after I had written articles and books, I received a letter from the gentleman who had charge of the Fine Arts Hall. He proved to have been the Professor of English Literature in the University of Wisconsin at this fair-time, and long afterward he sent me clippings of reports of his lectures. He had a lecture on me, discussing style, and so forth, and telling how well he remembered my arrival at the hall in my shirtsleeves with those mechanical wonders on my shoulder, and so forth, and so forth. These inventions, though of little importance, opened all doors for me, and made marks that have lasted many years, simply because they were original and promising.



ONCE, when the river had been up but was falling, I decided that I must get to the post-office after school. They told me that it would be safe if I crossed carefully and at the right spot. To impress upon me how very unsafe it might be to cross Rio Verde at the wrong spot, they had before told me various gruesome tales of happenings along the river. There was the story of a young soldier who, before the Post was the Post only in name, had tried to cross the Verde during high water and had been seen no more.

There was the story of a young cowboy who, only a few years before this, had been lost just below the Wests' house, in the sight of the Wests and of several other people. He had gone down suddenly into the quicksand. Some of those who watched him were unable to swim; others lost their heads for a minute or two. He was gone when help tried to reach him. His body was never found.

These stories I had heard; but I was told now that I could cross the river without danger, if only I would be careful and take the Old Crossing. They insisted strongly upon that. I must take the Old Crossing right here below the house. There would be no danger then.

I rode forth a very trifle timorously in spite of the reassurances of the family; but I must have the mail. Also, I must put in the office my own important letters.

Down the lane I went, and across the tiny bridge to the little hollow at the foot of the bluff. The mud was black and deep and shiny. Beyond, the wet sand lay quite unmarred except in one narrow track. It gave the country a very lonely look, somehow, as if it were uninhabited — newly washed up from the waters. The river tumbled by, black and angry.

To take the Old Crossing I must turn from the one narrow track, and that very act gave me a feeling of greater loneliness. I seemed to be blazing my way through a new country and I did not much like being a pioneer. Still, I was determined to obey instructions!

Brownie liked being a pioneer no better than I did; but we traveled obediently across the smooth, wet sand into a bog of the shiny black mud I had noticed before, and on to the ford. A white cottonwood log marked the beginning of this ford — a bleached skeleton of a log that lay now half-drowned in the muddy water, like a dead body washed ashore. I did n't like the look of the crossing - the water was so still and mysterious there. Neither did Brownie like it; but we were both docile. We followed instructions and waded bravely in.

I pulled my skirts up and up and curled my feet higher and higher on Brownie's sides. The water was much nearer wetting me than I liked to have it; but we were out of the deep place at last, where Brownie stepped so gingerly, and were splashing over a long stretch of shallow water with a hard, stony bottom. And then we were on the wet, unruffled sand again, and finally on the muddy road, where I saw once more a few tracks that proved that somebody besides myself was alive in the Valley.

« ElőzőTovább »