| In My Youth|
|by James Baldwin|
|A decidedly different autobiography, originally published under the pseudonym Robert Dudley, eventually revealed to be James Baldwin. A portrayal of life in rural Indiana in the middle of the 19th century it certainly is, but it is so much more. In the words of Mr. Howland, an editor for the original publisher, 'It is difficult to describe just what there is so remarkable about this book, but it is undeniably wonderful. It is literature. It is a strange combination of autobiography and fiction, and records only the simplest happenings -- the life of people in the Indiana backwoods, the primitive life, the commonplace experiences, the visits between neighbors. To tell about it in this way does not make it sound remarkable, yet it is. The style is simple and clear; there is a quiet humor running through it, and in other places the reading brings tears to the eyes.' Ages 10-12 |
THE DEPARTURE OF THE CARAVAN
AY, Towhead, how would thee like to go to the 'Hio next
week?" It was David that was speaking, and his lips
were screwed up in a way which meant that he was vastly
pleased about something.
I was busy reading the story of Richard the
Lion-hearted for the fourth time, and being half angry
that he should bother me with such a question, I
answered gruffly, "Who's goin' to the 'Hio?"
"I am," he answered; "but thee hain't. Father
said that I might go."
This aroused my curiosity, and closing the book, I
proceeded to get more of the information which I knew
David was burning to give.
"Father and all the rest has made it up to go to
Larnceburg ag'in," he said, "and I'm goin' along to
help with the wagon. They say that wheat's ten cents a
bushel higher down there than 'tis at Nopplis, and we
can get salt a whole lot cheaper. So they're all goin'
to try it ag'in, and I'm goin' along."
"We're goin' to start a week from to-morrer, at sunup.
Don't thee wish thee was goin', too?"
"Yes; but I know I can't. So what's the use of talking
Now, of all the regions of myth and mystery which
 I had heard of, but never read about, there was none
that stirred my imagination more strongly than that of
the 'Hio. I thought of it as a dim distant country,
lying close under the southern horizon and productive
of many things, useful and beautiful, that were neither
made nor grown in our New Settlement. The people who
lived in that favored region were always ready to
trade. They had many things to "sell—in fact,
everything that you could think about—and" they
were always accommodatingly ready to buy any commodity
that might be offered to them. There was a great river
there which gave name to the whole country; and boats
sailed on it to a far-away mysterious place called
Orleans, where they sold slaves and made mollasses.
All my life, I had heard a great deal of talk about
Larnceburg and the 'Hio and Sin Snatty, which was not
much farther away; but in spite of the knowledge I had
gained from my "reading—especially in the Parley
Book—all" my notions of location and distance
were indistinct, confused, misleading. I had never
seen a stream larger than our "crick," or a village
larger than Dry Forks with its three buildings; and so,
how could my imagination conceive of mighty rivers and
Until the completion of the first railroad to Nopplis,
three or four years previous, there were no markets for
produce nearer to us than the Ohio River. For more
than ten years after the founding of our New
Settlement, it had been the custom of our people to
make an annual journey, for purposes of trade, to
Larnceburg, at that time the rival of Sin Snatty, and
the most convenient of the river ports. They usually
went in a single company of ten to twenty men and boys,
with as many as a dozen wagons of all sizes and
descriptions; and the time chosen
 for this pilgrimage was in the fall, after the harvest
had been gathered, and while the roads were passable.
During the first few years there had not been much for
any one of the settlers to haul to "Larnceburg—no
wheat, no corn, nor other grain—but" perhaps the
hide of a dead cow, a few pounds of maple-sugar, a
little ginseng, and some skins of coons or muskrats.
Nevertheless, as the clearings increased and the fields
were made larger, a time of plenty arrived. Each year
that passed saw more grain and more wool produced and
finally a single farmer was sometimes known to take to
the market as much as ten bushels of wheat and the
fleeces of half a dozen sheep, besides the usual number
of other things. Such farmers were on the highroad to
Great expectations had been aroused by the building of
the first railroad in the Injanner "Country—that"
from Madison to Nopplis, as we always persisted in
calling the state capital. It was a death-blow to
Larnceburg and a disappointment to Sin Snatty, but it
held out golden promises to the two terminal cities.
Madison at once became a business mart of the first
importance; and father expressed his opinion that
Nopplis would very soon develop into a great center of
trade, thus bringing the markets of the world to our
very doors. What a change that would mean for our
settlement! For the state capital was so near to it
that one might go thither and return in two
"days—only think of it!—whereas" the journey
to Larnceburg and back had never been accomplished in
less than seven.
But, alas! the hopes engendered by the railroad were
not yet realized. True, it was always possible to sell
farm produce in Nopplis, but not for anything approach-
 ing the prices that were paid on the 'Hio. And when it
came to buying such necessary things as salt and pins
and dove-colored ribbons, the cost was proportionately
higher. The dealers claimed that the expense of
freightage between Nopplis and the 'Hio was so great
that all this was unavoidable; but their explanation
was of no value to the settlers. After trying the
"markets at our very doors" for a year or two, father
declared that the railroad was a cheat, and that we
were no better off than before. Finally, the neighbors
had put their heads together and resolved to try one
more pilgrimage to their old accustomed market on the
"Yes," said David, slapping his thigh, "We're goin' to
the 'Hio with everything we've got to trade; and maybe
when them there Nopplis fellers finds out that they're
losin' business, they'll knock under a bit. Father
says that me and Jonathan may have half of all the
money he gits for the wool; and so if thee'll be a good
boy, maybe I'll buy thee a nice marvel or two."
I knew that there was something behind all this
kindness and condescension on his part; and so I
answered, "Yes, I'll be a good boy. What is it thee
wants me to do?"
"Why, it's jist this way," said he: "Father says that
there's too much for Jonathan to tend to, all by
hisself, and him threatened with the fever'n'agur every
other day. So he says that I ought to stay home and
help him and not think of goin' to the 'Hio. But I
says, 'There's Robert, he's gittin' quite big, and
maybe he'll help Jonathan and take care of my filly
while I'm gone!' and father, he says, 'Well, if Robert
is willing to take thy place and do thy work, then thee
may go along and help take care of the wagon.' So now,
 what does thee say? Will thee lick in and help
Jonathan if I'll bring thee a couple of striped
It required but a minute for us to reach an agreement,
and then David proudly announced to father that I had
agreed to take his place during his absence on the trip
to the 'Hio. And so the matter was settled.
Very early on the morning that had been set for the
departure, I was roused from sleep by hearing an
unusual bustle and commotion in the cabin. I tumbled
out of my trundle-bed and dressed "myself—which"
was quickly done, since I had only to slip into my
tow-cloth breeches and pull the galluses up over my
shoulders. There was a bright blaze in the fireplace,
and Cousin Mandy Jane was very busy putting the
breakfast things on the table. Mother was filling a
wooden pail with cold "victuals— bread," pickled
meat, fried chicken, dried apple pie and the like.
"They'll be hungry more'n once while they're on the
road," I heard her remark.
I opened the door and went out. Save for a feeble
light low down on the eastern horizon, it was still
quite dark. The air was pungent with the odor of
smoke, and the heavy dew that lay on the grass was like
ice-water to my feet. I hastened to the spring to
scrub my face and dampen my hair, as I was always
required to do before breakfast. In the orchard a
whippoorwill was calling, and among the sycamores in
the "bottom" a great horned owl was hooting. Looking
over toward the deadening', I saw the fires glowing in
a score of log-heaps, and I knew that Jonathan must
have been there, even before this early hour, doing his
customary morning's task of "righting them up." Then I
heard father and David moving about the barn, and by
the light of
 the little old tin lantern which one of them carried,
I could see that they had already hitched the horses to
the wagon and that everything was in readiness for the
"Breakfast's ready!" shouted the shrill voice of Cousin
And soon we were all seated around the table, partaking
of the ample supply of hot corn dodgers, fried pork and
pumpkin pie, with foaming new milk for the younger
people and roasted-wheat coffee for the older. It was
a breakfast fit for a king, as David expressed it, and
far too good for most kings, as I fervently believed.
It still lacked a full half-hour till daybreak, and
since every preparation for the journey had been
completed, there was no need for haste. So father and
the boys sat leisurely and long at the table, and their
talk was naturally of markets and roads and railroads.
"Well, I wish I was goin' along with you, and I'll tell
you why," said Jonathan, who had just come in from the
deadenin'. "I'd like to see that there tarnal
railroad. Of course you'll be a-crossin' it somewhere
down toward the 'Hio, won't you?"
"I reckon hardly," responded David in rather pompous
tones. "We ain't likely to see it nowhere; and so thee
ain't missin' much. A railroad ain't no sight nohow.
I seen it when I was down to Nopplis, and I wouldn't
give a pin to see it again. It hain't nothin' but two
rows of long beams with two narrer strips of flat iron
nailed along the top of 'em."
"I don't keer so much about seein' jist the railroad,"
explained Jonathan; "But I'm mighty cur'ous to see them
there cars, as they call 'em, a-runnin' along on them
there strips of iron."
 "Oh, I seen a dozen cars when I was at Nopplis," said
David; "and any one of 'em was as big as twenty of our
wagons. But the eenjine, that's what thee ought
to see! Thee ought to see it, a-puffin' and roarin'
along, and pullin' four or five of them there big cars
ahind it. It's a sight, I tell thee."
"I've heerd say that some of 'em can run mighty fast,"
"Yes, some of 'em run as fast as a horse can gallop,"
said David. "Them's the kind they call passenger cars.
People rides in 'em."
"Laws' sakes! but they must jolt turble," ejaculated
Cousin Mandy Jane.
"It's a very rapid way of traveling," said father.
"When Barnabas C. Hobbs was here, he told me it is now
a common thing for a train of cars to run all the way
from Nopplis to Madison in a day. Only think of
"it!—eighty" miles between sunup and sundown!
Five years ago, people didn't believe it possible.
It's my opinion that David Wallace would have been our
governor to-day if he hadn't tried to make folks
believe such things."
"How was that, father?" inquired Jonathan.
"Well, at the last election for governor, David Wallace
thought he would be one of the candidates. People
liked him and he was doing right well till he made two
or three speeches that spoiled all his chances. In
them speeches he declared that the railroad would be
the making of Nopplis and of the whole country. He
said that there were young men then in the hearing of
his voice who would live to see the time when they
could eat their breakfast in Nopplis and their supper
the same day on the 'Hio. A good many
 people hooted at the idea, and they said that if
William had no more sense than to tell 'em such stuff
as that, he wasn't fit to be governor; and so they
turned him down. The fact is that there are so many
wonders, nowadays, we never know what to expect next.
But the Madison railroad has now been built for some
years, and it don't seem to be doing much good. I
don't understand why those Nopplis men should want more
railroads build to their place."
"Are they wantin' to do that?" asked Jonathan.
"Some of 'em are very anxious about it," answered
father. "When I was down there last spring, I had a
talk with Calvin Fletcher, and he told me that plans
are now on foot to build railroads in every
"direction—east to Wayne, north to Lay Fate, and
west to Terry Hut—and" he declared his belief
that Nopplis will soon become the greatest railroad
center in the world."
"And what good would that do?" asked Jonathan.
"I'm sure I don't know," was the answer. "Some say it
would bring the markets right to our doors; but it
ain't likely. We've heard that kind of talk 'most too
"I do believe it's gittin' daylight," said Cousin Mandy
Jane, peeping out at the window. "If you set there at
the table much longer, you surely won't git to the Four
Corners at sunup."
"Yes, boys, come!" said father. "It's getting light in
the east. We'll start now, as soon as possible."
Then came the bustle of departure. I ran out to the
wagon and climbed up over the tail-board to see the
various marketable things that had been put into it.
The wagon itself was not unlike the farm wagons still
in use throughout the West and perhaps
 dium size, firmly build and strong. Above the
wagon-bed, and attached to its sides, were a series of
semicircular wagon bows upon which was stretched a
heavy rain-proof "wagon sheet," covering and enclosing
the whole like the top of a coach. It was very
comfortable inside, underneath this cover. There I
counted five large bags of wheat; and beside them, on
some clean straw, were two huge bundles of wool, and a
bag of white beans. Besides these, there were two
bundles of coonskins and another of muskrat hides,
which Jonathan was sending with the hope of getting a
good price for them.
Under the driver's seat there was a large green willow
basket packed with the mercantile ventures of the rest
of the household: a roll of blue jeans, some eggs, and
six small cheeses from mother; a jar of pickles, and
some glasses of jelly from Cousin Mandy Jane; five
pairs of warm stockings from Aunt Rachel; and lastly, a
bundle of ginseng roots which I myself had gathered in
As I was making a mental inventory of this valuable
cargo, David came out, all ready for the journey. He
looked very dapper and neat, attired in his new jeans
trousers and striped vest, with the collar of his
homespun shirt standing up stiff on both sides of his
chin. He threw his coat and boots into the wagon,
declaring that he didn't want to be bothered with such
truck on the road, but that maybe when he got to the
"Hio he would feel like fixin' up a bit.
"Git out of the way, thee tarnal little Towhead!" he
cried. "Thee needn't think that anything in that there
wagon belongs to "thee—'cause" it don't."
There was a funny twinkle in his eye, and I knew that
he was not only happy but that his feelings toward me
 were very tender and kind and he was ashamed to let
anyone know it.
"Thee won't forget the marbles, will thee?" I ventured
"Who said anything about marvels?" he growled. "If
thee ain't good while we're gone, thee'll get a
"cowhidin'—that's what thee'll git, and I won't
forgit to give it to thee."
While he was scolding me and untying the horses, father
appeared at the door. The eyes of the whole family
were directed toward him. Although he was about to
start upon a journey of great importance, and would be
absent for at least a week, perhaps much longer, yet he
spoke no farewells to any "one—bade" no one
good-by. It was not the custom in our household to
waste time and breath in needless formalities of this
sort. He was dressed in his best suit of clothes; his
big beaver hat was on his head; his boots had just
received a fresh dressing of tallow; he stood erect and
tall, and moved with a dignity befitting a king. He
walked briskly out to the barnyard, and climbed into
the waiting wagon.
"All the "Hio folks will know that he's somebody, jist
from the looks of him," whispered Cousin Mandy Jane,
unable to conceal her admiration; and my own pride
swelled high as I observed his dignified bearing, his
strong handsome face and his general air of true
He seated himself in the driver's place, with David by
his side. He took the long lines in his hands, and
then, as if being suddenly reminded of something, he
turned and spoke to me.
"Robert, thee must be a good boy while I'm gone."
 That was his way of saying good-by. "What does thee
want me to buy with thy ginseng?"
He gave me no time to reply but chirruped to the
"Git ep!" shouted David.
And they were off.
Just as they turned into the lane, however, father
looked back and called to me: "Robert, if thee has a
mind to walk over to the Four Corners to see all the
wagons get started, I have no objection, provided Mandy
Jane will come along with thee."
Oh, what happiness was mine! Of course, Cousin Mandy
Jane would come along; and so, side by "side—she
with her blue sunbonnet hiding her face, and I without
hat, coat or shoes—we" trudged joyously behind
the slowly moving wagon; and Aurora with her yellow
tresses rose in the east, heralding the approach of the
god of day. I felt as if I had been suddenly boosted
into the seventh heaven, so perfect was the hour, so
satisfied were all my desires.
"Don't go to hangin' on ahind!" shouted David, swinging
his whip around over the wheels. "You'll stall the
horses, right off, in this rough road."
But the road was not bad. The ground was dry and firm,
and the wagon wheels bowled along easily in the
well-packed ruts. The poor beasts might have trotted
briskly all the way to the Four Corners if their driver
had so willed it. But, no! their strength must be held
in reserve for the miles and miles of hard travel to be
performed before reaching the 'Hio; and so they were
encouraged to jog along at their favorite slow-poke
Presently, where the road made a sharp turn to the
south, and the wheels began to ascend a long but gentle
 slope, David vaulted suddenly out of the wagon and
stood waiting by the roadside until Cousin Mandy Jane
and I came up.
"I kinder thought I'd walk a spell," he explained. "
'Tain't much fun to set scrunched up in the wagon
'mongst all them bags and things, and I guess I'll git
enough of it afore we get to the 'Hio."
And so we three trudged onward together.
By and by, David said to me, "Towhead, does thee know
how fur it is from our house to the Four Corners?"
"Two miles," I answered.
"And does thee know how fur it is back, from the Four
Corners to our house?"
"Why, two miles, of course."
"Well, that's a purty long walk fur a little codger
like thee;" and he tried to speak gruffly. "Thee'll be
right smart tired when thee gits home. So, come along,
and let me boost thee over the tail-board into the
wagon. Thee mustn't let father see thee."
With one hand he gripped me by the collar, and with the
other he seized the ample seat of my
"breeches—and" next moment I was sprawling inside
the wagon, among the wool and the coonskins and the
bags of wheat.
"Don't tell father!" he shouted.
Father looked back at me and smiled. Then he bade me
come and sit beside him. "Robert, thee may drive the
team a little while, if thee would like," he said; and
he placed the lines in my hands.
"Oh, father! may I?" I cried, my heart overflowing with
"Yes, all the way to the Four Corners, if thee so
 If I had been in the seventh heaven before, I was now
surely ascending into the empyrean. I wished very much
to shout aloud, but the presence of father restrained
It seemed but a very little while until we hove in
sight of the Four Corners, the appointed place of
rendezvous for all the settlers who were that day
starting on the pilgrimage to the "io; and just as we
rounded the summit of a little hill overlooking the
spot, the sun rose above the eastern horizon, red as
blood in the smoky sky.
"I verily believe that we are the last ones on the
ground," said father, anxiously peering forward as our
wagon rattled down the hill. And then we saw, drawn up
in line by the side of the road, nine white-topped
wagons very much like our own; and a little nearer to
us, at the junction of the two highways which formed
the "four corners," a dozen men were standing as though
eagerly awaiting our arrival.
"Well, there's Old Enick and Joel Sparker," said David
hurrying up alongside of us. "I think, maybe, we might
have managed to git along without ary one of
Who can describe my pride as I urged our old plow
horses to an unwilling trot and guided them steadily to
the spot where our neighbors were standing? And then
there were greetings all around, and kind inquiries,
and awkward homely jests which for the moment made me
forget both my vanity and my shyness.
"How's thee Levi T? How's thee to-day?" said father,
addressing a middle-aged Friend whom I "knew—for"
it was he who always sat next to us in meetin'.
 And then Old Enoch, with that indescribable smile of
his, came forward and offered his hand.
"Howdy, Robert! Is thee well to-day?"
I looked and saw his dingy gray wagon close by, on my
left, with Old Bull chained to the hind axle and Little
Enick sitting on the tail-board and making faces at me.
"Oh, I'm pretty well. How's thee and thine?" I
And then Old Joel Sparker came solemnly forward and
offered the customary greetings. He was thin and
small, both physically and mentally, with a hatchet
face, a hooked nose and small eyes which always
reminded me of auger-holes. He was dressed in a brown
jeans suit of the plainest imaginable cut, and on his
head he wore a broad-brimmed hat of the genuine George
After speaking to father he looked at me rather
disdainfully, sniffed the air through his nostrils two
or three times, and then inquired, "Is this thy little
son, Stephen? And does thee propose to take him with
thee to the 'Hio?"
"Yes, this is Robert," said father, "but he will not go
to the 'Hio this time. I allowed him to come to the
Four Corners to see the wagons "start—that's"
Then David spoke up, rashly, foolishly: "Yes, little
Towhead's goin' to take my place at home while I'm
away. He's goin' to take keer of my filly, and I've
promised to fetch him a couple of striped marvels."
"Marvels! marvels!" cried Friend Sparker, lifting his
hands in holy horror. "Does thee propose to corrupt
the mind and soul of that young boy by putting
mar-  vels into his hands? And, Stephen Dudley, I'm
surprised that thee will permit such a "thing— and"
thee a leader and a light in Our Society!"
"Is thee sure, Joel, that it's wrong for boys to play a
quiet game with marbles?" asked father.
"Wrong! wrong!" answered the preacher. "Why, it's
against the Scripters! It's forbidden in holy writ.
Open thy Bible, Stephen. Turn to first John,
three-thirteen, and read it for thyself: 'Marvel
not, brethren!' What is plainer than that?"
"But there is a difference between 'marvel' and
'marble,' " said father, scarcely repressing a smile.
And Levi T. Jay, who was always quick to appreciate the
ludicrous, laughed outright.
"Joel, if thee would read thy dictionary along with thy
Bible," said he, "thee might be somewhat better
This reply, together with the laughter, exasperated the
saintly minister, and he addressed himself sharply to
his critic. "Does thee dare to stand there and laugh
at the word of God?" he asked. "If this was thy last
day on earth, would thee indulge in so much hilarity?
Does thee think thee will laugh when thee stands before
the bar of judgment?"
"I've not thought anything about that," answered Levi
T.; "but the Bible says, 'Fill thy mouth with laughing
and thy lips with rejoicing'; and I think it's a purty
good thing to laugh once in a while."
"Th' ain't no such thing in the Bible," interposed Old
Enoch. "Thee cain't name the chapter and verse. The
Bible, it's set square ag'inst all sich worldly
"That's so," said the saint; "and George Fox, he was
set square ag'inst it, too. He never laughed but
 and then he was sorry for it." Then, turning to the
rest of the company, he called out in shrill grating
tones: "Friends, we are about to start on a long and
dangerous journey, and it behooves us to have our lamps
trimmed and burning. For who knows when the great and
terrible day shall come? Verily, it is written, 'the
elements shall melt with fervent heat'; and if you will
but lift your eyes, you may behold, even now, the smoke
of the Lord ascending from the earth."
"Oh, no," said Levi T., "that's nothing but the smoke
of the deadening' ascending from the log heaps."
At this there was another hearty laugh, and the good
man, burning with ill-concealed anger, returned to his
"Too much levity! too much levity!" muttered Old Enoch.
"But not too much Levi T.," remarked father in his
quiet decisive way.
In the meanwhile, I had leaped out of our wagon and
rejoined Cousin Mandy Jane who was standing by the
roadside. David, after testing the wagon wheels and
looking at the harness, had climbed back to his place
on the driver's seat, and was idly flicking with his
whip the tops of some mullein stalks that stood near
by. Some of the other men were readjusting their wagon
covers, giving their horses water from the near-by
branch and putting things to rights generally, before
resuming the long and arduous journey.
"Friends," cried Joel Sparker, turning his team halfway
round in the road, "if it is your mind to go forward on
this journey in a laughing and reckless spirit, I will
not be one of you. I will wash my hands of the whole
business and will return to my own home."
 "Oh, come! come!" said Levi T. in the tones of a
commander. "Let's have no more foolishness, but acquit
ourselves like men. Drive forward to the front,
Stephen Dudley. We always expect thee to lead. Be
ready to fall into your places, every one of you!"
A gentle touch of the whip from David's judicious
hands, and our sturdy old horses were again on the
move. As the wagon rolled on, past the place where I
was standing, father leaned over the dashboard and
repeated the injunction, "Be a good boy while I'm gone,
"Yes, Towhead!" said David. "Take good keer of the
filly, and I'll fetch them there marvels to thee,
One by one, the wagons fell into line, each taking the
place assigned to it by Levi T., who appeared to be the
captain of the company. Then, as he brought his own
team into the road and closed up the rear, he shouted,
"Forward, every one!" And the long procession began
its slow but steady progress toward the distant
mysterious 'Hio. What a source of pride it was to see
our own brave wagon in the lead, setting the pace as it
were for all the rest!
The first half-mile of the road was over a level
"cross-way" built through the middle of a treeless
swamp or wet prairie. From the vantage-ground where I
was standing with Cousin Mandy Jane, we could see from
one end of the straight rough way to the other; and we
silently watched the line of white-topped wagons until
the last one had climbed the hill at the farther side
of the swamp and was lost to sight among the trees.
"It looked like that picture of a caravan in the Parley
Book," I said; "But there are wagons in this
cara-  van, and not any camels. Did thee ever see a camel,
Cousin Mandy Jane?"
"Not as I know of," she answered, turning to go home.
"Well, they're like big horses with humps on their
backs. They are called the ships of the desert," I
said, greedy to display my superior knowledge.
"What's a desert?"
"Oh, it's a big sandy place like that around the old
swimmin' hole in the crick; but it's a hundred times
"Shucks! What do I keer for that? Come on! It's time
to go home."
And so we began our weary return along the lonely road
which we had lately traversed in much better spirits.
Something seemed suddenly to have dropped out of our
lives, leaving an emptiness which I could neither
describe nor understand.
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