| 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 |
CHARITY AND PATIENCE
NE afternoon, upon returning from the lower deadening
with a pair of young oxen which father had given me, I
overtook Cousin Mandy Jane in the act of creeping down
the barnyard bars. She had a basket of freshly dug
potatoes on her arm, and I noticed that her hair was
liberally greased and smoothly plastered over her
forehead, and that she wore her newest gingham
apron—sure signs of visitors.
"Well, who's come now?" I inquired, holding the nigh
steer by his stumpy little horn.
"Oh, Robert thee cain't never guess," was the excited
reply. "Hurry and unyoke the steers, and then I'll tell
thee who they are and all about 'em."
I drove my little oxen into the barnyard, and in
another minute, had loosened the yoke from their
patient necks and turned them into the lane to graze
the short grass in the fence corners.
"Now tell me," I demanded, growing impatient.
"Thee cain't never guess who it is," responded the
palpitating young woman, her eyes twinkling and her
front teeth showing broad between her thin lips.
"I don't want to guess," I answered tartly. "Thee
promised to tell me, and thee must."
"Well then, it's Charity and Patience, if thee must
know;" and she gave way to one of those rare,
in-  imitable tee-hees which she usually held in reserve for
occasions of great importance.
"Charity and Patience! Who's Charity and Patience?"
"Why, hain't thee heard? They're then two twin
school-teachers that Isaac Wilson brung with him all
the way from Filly Delfy when he was down there last
month. They've come over to see if they cain't git a
chance to teach a school somewhere round her; and
they're settin' in the house right now. Isaac Wilson,
he brung 'em over from Dashville in his spring wagon,
and the he driv away ag'in, goin' round toward Duck
Creek. But them there twins, I reckon they'll stay at
our house a right smart spell—leastwise till they
find out about them schools they want to git."
She rattled this speech off in breathless haste,
glancing uneasily around as though fearful of being
"What do they look like, Cousin Mandy Jane?" I asked,
apprehensive and in a mood that was nowise friendly to
the strangers who had thus intruded themselves into our
"Oh, thee'll see," and her tone was somewhat
reassuring. "Thee might take ary one of 'em for
t'other, 'cause they're jist as nigh alike as two beans
in the shell. Thee cain't never tell which to call
Charity and which to call Patience."
"Well, I'm sure I'll never want to call 'em at all," I
answered despondently. I was beginning to wonder how I
could manage to endure the ordeal of meeting with
strangers who, having come so vast a distance, must be
so very strange indeed.
"If I was thee, Robert," advised Cousin Mandy Jane,
 "I'd go and slick up a bit, and try to look nice and
clean afore thee shows thyself to sich quality folks."
And with that, she hastened down to the spring branch,
to wash her potatoes in the flowing stream.
Feeling that her counsel was altogether proper and
sensible, I followed her, keeping myself well concealed
behind the currant bushes and the fence, lest spying
eyes from the house might see me in my unpresentable
state. The slicking-up process consisted of a thorough
washing of face, hands, and feet in the pellucid waters
of the branch, and careful dampening of my shock of
towy hair, which somehow would never stay smooth or
respectable. This being accomplished, I looked at the
reflection of myself in nature's mirror, and felt
ashamed. And Inviz, who now seldom came except to
upbraid me, whispered over my shoulder:
"You're a pretty looking sight for quality folks to
look at—shirt collar without a button—only
one gallus to hold your britches up—both knees
with patches on them—and a big patch on your
behind. Why, you look just like a scarecrow in the
And just then, my dear Leonidas, a great terror seized
hold of me and my heart stood still; for I heard
footsteps and low voices behind me, and felt sure that
I was in the dread presence of the twin teachers.
Doubtless they had caught sight of me from the cabin
door, and had come down to the spring branch to
surprise me. Escape there was none, and soon, with
trembling limbs I turned about and faced my doom.
The twins advanced trippingly, their faces beaming with
good nature, their hands extended to grasp my own. They
seemed not at all like my fancy had painted them.
 Half my terror vanished instantly, and before a word
had been spoken I felt as though we were already on
fast and friendly terms with each other.
"And so this is Robert Dudley, isn't it?" said one.
"Isn't it?" echoed the other.
"How does thee do?" inquired the first.
"How does thee do?" repeated the second.
And to my renewed confusion, two pairs of hands
seized upon me at the same moment, and two faces were
bent so near to my own that I was filled with direst
terror lest their owners should be moved to kiss me.
"My name is Charity," said one.
"My name is Patience," said the other.
"We saw thee coming down the pathway, and we
thought we would follow thee and get acquainted,"
"Get acquainted," echoed Patience, and she squeezed
my fingers till they ached.
Then before I had time to recover myself or to think
once about being a scarecrow or any other inferior
creature, the sisters began asking questions regarding dozens
of things which were very commonplace and foolish, but
which must have seemed to them truly interesting.
They asked about the tall cattails that grew so rank
near the other side of the branch and were then at their
best; and they talked of the beauty of various other
plants that I had always regarded as ugly weeds; and
nothing would do but they must tuck up their dresses
and run a race with me to pick a bunch of blue flowers
which they had espied half-way across the orchard.
Returning to the spring-house, they must needs ask
me all about the milk in the crocks, and the cream that
we skimmed off the top of it, and how we churned butter,
 and what we did with the buttermilk, and how the cheese
press was operated; and they did all this inquiring so
innocently and with such a show of ignorance that I
began to think they were not school-teachers at all, but
a pair of guileless creatures who knew nothing about
common things, and were themselves very much in need
of being taught. True, they looked intelligent; and they
were dressed in store clothes and wore white collars with
ribbon bows in front, and they talked very "proper,"
and spoke of books as though they knew somewhat about
them. Moreover, they were not in the least stuck up,
but seemed just like common folks, very plain and very
well-behaved in all respects. What a pity that their
lives had hitherto been cast in the crowded pent-up city!
After we had exhausted the spring-house and the
spring branch and everything else that was in sight, we
walked across the orchard, past the peach trees now
laden with ripening fruit, and past the old ash hopper
and the soap kettles—and there I had to pause for a
while and explain all the mysteries of making lye and
boiling soft soap; and finally we came to a halt at the
barnyard bars, where the sisters were content to remain
a while to gaze at the world of animated nature just
First, they admired the long rows of martins' nests
under the eaves of the barn; and I had to explain the
difference between a martin and a swallow, and describe
the habits peculiar to each. Then they looked at the
ducks and geese that were waddling and cackling around
the barnyard; and the ignorance which they displayed
concerning these most necessary fowls was truly astounding.
Next, the hens and the lordly rooster became the
subjects of comment and rapturous admiration, and the
 fattening pigs in their narrow enclosure evoked many an
exclamation of urban delight. Finally, one of the twins
caught sight of my pair of steers strolling in the
lane, and her curiosity immediately became manifest.
"See there, Charity!" she exclaimed. "See those
beautiful cows just over there in that narrow street!"
"Those beautiful cows!" responded the sister.
"Yes, those beautiful cows! Of all the wonderful
animals that were created for man's benefit and
delight, I think that the cow is the most lovely, the
most useful, and the most necessary."
"Most useful and most necessary," interrupted the
"Now just look at those two meek-eyed creatures nipping
the luscious grass by the roadside. Think, sister, how
that grass will be converted into wholesome,
nourishing, foaming milk—perhaps for our breakfast
to-morrow morning, or perhaps to be churned into butter
for our bread when we are hungry. Did thee ever see
anything so worthy of admiration?"
"Worthy of admiration?"
"Now, these two cows seem very small, and their horns
are short, thus indicating that they are quite young."
"But, Robert, am I not right in supposing that they
already give a goodly quantity of milk?"
"A goodly quantity of milk?" echoed Charity; and both
looked at me as though expecting reply.
I explained, as delicately as I could, that the two
meek-eyed creatures were not cows but young oxen, and
that I had been breaking them to draw loads and do
light work in the clearing. I informed the, moreover,
 milk was not usually obtained from young oxen but from
"Their mothers, sister Charity!"
"Yes, the young oxen have mothers, sister Patience.
Only think of it."
"Only think of it! We've often read about oxen, but
these are the first we have ever seen. I suppose the
dear creatures know thy voice when thee speaks to
"Yes," I replied, and to demonstrate the fact, I cried
out, "Whoa haw, Dan! Git ep!" and instantly the red
steer left off his grazing and turned into the road.
"Well, isn't that wonderful!" exclaimed both the
sisters at once. "What was the name thee called her
"I called him Dan; but his full name is Daniel Webster,
'cause we never know on which side of the fence we'll
The sisters laughed, but whether in derision or
approbation I was by no means sure.
"What is the other one's name?" asked Patience.
"We call him Hen for short," I answered. "His full name
is Henry Clay, 'cause he don't ever want to be
There was another ripple of laughter, and I turned my
face away, feeling certain that I had said something
very foolish and improper; but there was some relief in
the thought that I had learned it all from father.
"What funny names thee has for thy pets!" said Charity.
"Yes, what funny names!" echoed Patience.
And then, to my unbounded relief, Cousin Mandy Jane
came running to inform the twins that supper was on
 the table and the victuals were impatiently waiting for
their attendance. "The biscuits will all git cold if
you don't hurry in and eat 'em," she urged. And so, the
two strangers tripping away at her behest, I was
released from further services as their guide.
I waited at the gate until they had disappeared in the
cabin, and then I sauntered down the lane, communing
sweetly with Inviz.
"Charity and Patience! What funny names, and what funny
women! I like them, don't thee? They are so common and
so kind, and more than that they are so ready to learn
"Yes," answered my playmate, "they are simply great.
They are as funny as Cousin Sally, and not a bit more
stuck up. But oh, how green they are, not to know a
duck from a goose, or a steer from a cow!"
"Well, they will soon learn about such things," I said
apologetically. "City folks can't be expected to know
"No, nor school-teachers, neither."
"But only think of it, Inviz. These two women have come
all the way from the place where William Penn treated
the Indians, just to teach us Hoosiers our A B C's and
the multiplication table."
"Yes. We'll learn book things from them, and they'll
learn real things from us, and we will all be better
And thus there came into our lives another
influence—yes, two of them if you please—to
help in broadening our outlook upon the world and
placing our feet firmly upon the solid highway of
Through father's growing influence in politics, no less
than through his diplomatic way of managing
neighborhood affairs, the twin teachers were not long
 provided for. In accordance with the revised law of the
state, a school meeting was held in the new schoolhouse
in "Deestrict Number Five" for the purpose of selecting
a teacher for the ensuing school term, soon to begin.
There were but two candidates for the position; and of
the sixteen votes cast, Benjamin Barnacle receive four,
and Patience the remaining twelve. If "Old Benny" had
been chosen, he, as a lord of creation, would have been
paid the princely salary of five dollars a week; but
Patience, being only a female, was rated at twenty-five
per cent. discount, and when her contract was finally
closed with the trustees, she was obliged to be content
with the promise of forty-five dollars for the full
term of twelve weeks.
"It's too much to pay to any woman," remarked Abner
Jones, who had ten children and was taxed eighteen
cents for the support of the public schools. "A man
teacher for me, allers!"
"But there are compensations," said 'Lihu Bright,
always inclined to philosophize. "We have a total
amount of forty-five dollars, neither more nor less, to
devote to the education of the poor children in this
deestrict. If we hire a man at five dollars a week,
these children can have only nine weeks' schooling. If
we hire a woman at three-seventy-five, they will have
twelve weeks. So you see there is a direct advantage in
employing a female."
At about this time, through father's continued good
efforts, the other twin teacher, Charity, obtained
permission to teach the "Monthly Meetin' School,"
provided she could secure a sufficient number of
signers to her article, each signer agreeing to pay her
 "per each scholar signed," for a term of ten weeks'
The article was beautifully written on a sheet of blue
foolscap, and the number of branches which she therein
agreed to teach was truly remarkable:—"spelling,
reading, writing, arithmetic through the Rule of Three,
modern geography, English grammar to the rules of
syntax, history, and botany."
"What sort of stuff is that there botany?" inquired one
of the Monthly Meetin' committee men.
Not one of his colleagues could tell. It was doubtless
some newfangled branch of learning, good enough for the
quality folks down in Philadelphia, but of no use to
the plain common people of our Settlement. Charity was
called upon to explain, and she did this so
satisfactorily that the committee at once approved of
her article and gave her authority to go ahead and
secure as many signers as she could. She accordingly
proceeded to visit each and every family of Friends in
the Settlement, "just to get acquainted, thee knows,"
as she smilingly informed them.
At the end of a week she returned to our house
triumphant, having obtained the signatures of nineteen
parents and the promised of thirty-seven and a half
"Only think of it, sister," she exclaimed, "I will be
making three dollars and seventy-five cents a
week—just the same that thee will be making in thy
"Yes, only think of it," responded Patience.
And they were both content.
As I have elsewhere intimated, my Leonidas, the public
schools in our state had, up to this time, bee but
slightly esteemed. The well-to-do people were
 of them, believing that they were merely a kind of
charitable institution designed to benefit only the
children of the needy. The poorer folk, scorning to be
recipients of alms, and having little use for
book-learning, were in nowise anxious to patronize
them. The churches regarded them with disfavor, for the
law forbade the teaching of any religious creed. The
very name of "hoosier" had become synonymous with
backwoods illiteracy, and there were not a few, even in
our Settlement, who looked upon learning as a dangerous
thing. While, therefore, private institutions and
"meetin' schools" flourished in a certain limited
sense, the "deestrict schools" went begging, with
wretched schoolhouses, inefficient teachers, and a
scanty attendance of pupils. But now, at length, as we
were beginning to emerge from the Middle Ages, a new
era in education was dawning: new school laws were
coming into force, and with a wise and energetic state
superintendent at the head of affairs, the cause of
public instruction was beginning to receive an impetus
from which it has not yet recovered.
Since Deestrict School Number Five and the Dry Forks
Monthly Meetin' School were about equally distant from
our house, although in opposite directions, it was
arranged that the twins should board with us, they
paying mother the sum of twenty-five cents a week
besides making their own bed and helping with the
housework. They were robust and fearless, and no matter
what the condition of the weather or the roads, they
seemed thoroughly to enjoy the walk of three miles,
morning and evening, to and from their respective
institutions of learning.
As I have just said, the public schools were looked
upon with suspicion; and for that reason, Charity's
subscrip-  tion school was crowded with pupils at a dollar a
scholar, while her sister's deestrict school, which was
free to all, was very slimly attended. Father, although
he was practically at the head of educational affairs
in the Settlement, shared in the general prejudice and
openly encouraged it.
"I hope," he said, addressing a meeting of our
neighbors for the discussion of the general
welfare—"I hope that not one of you who can spare
a dollar for the purpose of educating his children will
ever think of making use of the free district school.
That school is for the benefit of our poorer neighbors
who have not been blessed in basket and store as you
have been. You should pay your taxes cheerfully and do
all that you can to promote and encourage such schools,
for they are founded in charity; but we should not deny
to our own children the benefits of the meeting school,
where they may be safeguarded from evil influences and
properly instructed in religion and morals, which are
the foundations of prosperity."
When therefore the time arrived for the schools to
open, it was tacitly understood that I should become
Charity's pupil but not a pupil of charity; and
father's name, with the promise of one scholar, headed
the list of signers to her article.
"Robert," said Patience, as were about to start out on
the first morning, "does thee know what I wish more
than anything else?"
"No. Thee will have to tell me."
"Well, then, I wish thee was twins, like me and
"Why so?" I inquired, wondering how such a thing might
"Because then there would be two of thee, and one
 twin could be Charity's scholar and t'other one could
be mine. Does thee see?"
I laughed at her queer conceit, and as I did so, a
vision appeared of two tow-headed, barefooted boys,
exactly alike, going in opposite directions, each with
his books under his arm and his dinner pail in his
hand. "Yes," I answered, "that would be very nice, and
I have a mind that I would like it right smart."
"But since thee ain't twins and can't never be twins,"
said Patience, "I think maybe we might fix it up
"Well, what if thee could go to Charity's school one
day and to mine the next? Wouldn't that be fine?"
"I think it would, if father would let me."
"I'll ask him now," and she went immediately and laid
the matter before him.
He smiled, then frowned and hesitated, and finally in
his stiffest manner refused to consider her
"I have due respect for thy skill as a teacher," he
said, "but I can not say that I admire thy judgment as
a woman. Such a splitting up of interests as thee
suggests would lead only to confusion and the
subversion of good discipline. It would spoil the boy.
It must not be."
And thus the matter was settled. For the space of ten
fleeting weeks I became Charity's willing scholar at
school, but Patience's devoted friend and comrade
during many an hour out of school.
Do you ask what branches I studied?
Being permitted to have my own way in the matter of
selection, I chose everything that was mentioned in
Charity's "article," not even omitting the botany. "I
 think I might as well get our money's worth," I
remarked to Cousin Mandy Jane, knowing that I would
have her judicious approval; and Patience, overhearing
me, sweetly smiled and rejoined, "That's right, Robert.
Just thee keep sister Charity busy." And so I did, but
in more ways than one.
With a tutor so wide-awake and efficient, I certainly
ought to have received a training that was worth a
hundred times the paltry dollar that father paid for my
tuition. The school, the discipline, the manner of
instruction—how different was everything from that
which had characterized the administration of my former
teacher, Benjamin Barnacle! Each day was a day of
progress, and many were the refreshings that were mine
during those few brief weeks of instruction. But, for
reasons which I shall explain later on, I fell
deplorably short of the standard which I might have
And then, there were my almost daily rambles in the
fields or woods with my out-door mentor, Patience. She
was to me a sort of visible Inviz, grown up and become
surprisingly human. Together we drove the cows home
from the pasture, and on Seventh-day mornings when
there was no school, we gathered hazelnuts in the
thickets or went botanizing in the deadenings. I found
that she knew next to nothing about the commonest
things, not being able to distinguish wheat from oats
or a robin from a quail, but she was delightfully
appreciative and always brimming with enthusiasm. Her
tomboyish ways—known only to our family—were
a great trial to mother, who declared that nature had
made a mistake in her borning; but good Aunt Rachel
came to the rescue by affirming that, in such a case,
nature only was to be blamed; and so all was forgiven.
 How I missed the dear, old, cavernous fireplace with
its cheer of flame, and the great warm hearth with its
glowing coals inspiring visions and awakening dreams of
the glory that was past! Never again would I experience
the joy of lying prone in the ruddy light, my elbows on
the hearth, my head propped in my hands, a book before
my eyes, and the soft breath of Inviz upon my cheek as
he peeped over my shoulder and shared my ecstasy. The
rayless cookstove with its lids and dampers was no
doubt a household convenience, and it was
modern—but it was as uninspiring as a barn door
and as unsympathetic as a roofless hut on a rainy day.
"The old fireplace was good company in itself," said
Inviz on one of his rare brief visits. "It was poetry
with many pictures interspersed, but this ugly black
thing with its cooking odors and its treacherous heat,
it nothing but dull dry prose as uninteresting as a
"Yes," I agreed, "it is as dry as the writings of
George Fox or the book of Discipline. But it is
all that we have now, and I suppose that we must try to
get along with it and make believe that we like it."
"That will be your best plan," he answered, "for you
are a growing boy and you will become used to it. But
as for me, I can not live in a place where there is not
firelight and everything is so gloomy and
matter-of-fact; and, besides, you have become so big
and so worldly-wise that it is hard for me to get along
with you any more. So I am going away to find a
cheerier place and more congenial company elsewhere.
A tight hug, a warm kiss, and he was gone.
"I will come to see you once in a while—once in a
long while," he said tremulously as he flitted away.
My cheeks were wet with tears—my tears and his
 intermingled—as I pulled open the sliding hearth
of the iron abomination and raked out two or three
coals in the vain endeavor to extract a little
inspiration and comfort therefrom. I set myself to the
study of the next day's lesson in history—a
dry-as-dust account of soldiers slain and cities
bombarded—but it was a dreary task, and the end of
half an hour I was conscious chiefly of strained eyes
and a feeling of overwhelming loneliness. Presently I
felt a hand upon my shoulder—a hand heavier and
more material than that of Inviz—and the friendly
voice of Patience aroused me from my despondency.
"Promise me something, Robert," she said.
"Promise thee what?" I answered in a tone of
"Promise me that thee will never neglect thy lessons in
order to read it, and I will show thee a book that I
brought with me from Philadelphia."
"What is it?" I inquired, my interest languidly
"It is a book. Does thee promise?"
"Yes; I promise."
"Come, then," and she led the way to the curtained
corner where all her possessions were stored. She
opened the little old hair trunk which she had brought
from the East, and displayed to my view a largish
brand-new volume which immediately excited the reading
hunger within me to an overpowering degree.
"I wish thee to read this book with great care," she
said; "and if thee will try to model they life upon its
instructions, I am sure that thee will be much improved
I took it from her hands. It smelled as though it had
 just fallen from the press. I looked greedily at the
title-page: "The Child at Home, by John S. C.
Abbott." What promises of companionship and instruction
"I will make thee a present of that book if thee will
be perfect in all thy lessons every day until
I held it tight in my hands and thought what a
beautiful addition it would make to my rapidly growing
"O Patience, thee is so good. I will try my best to do
as thee says."
"Thee may begin to read it now, and we will settle its
ownership later on," she said. "I had a mind to give it
to Isaac Wilson's little granddaughter in Dashville.
Maybe thee's heard of her;—her name is
Edith—Edith Meredith.—And if thee don't make
good at Christmas time, I promise thee it shall yet be
I made no reply, but I felt the hot blood rushing to my
cheeks, and my hand trembled. How did Patience know?
Had she heard me talking in my dreams? I fingered the
leaves uneasily, and stammered something that was
"I wish thee to read the book, anyway," continued
Patience, seeming not to notice my confusion; "and thee
may begin it right now."
She closed the lid of the trunk with a slam, and locked
it, and our interview was ended. I sat down by the
candlestand with Uncle Abbott's inspiring volume wide
open before me, and there I remained, reading without
intermission, until literally driven to bed. I call the
book an inspiring volume, and to me at that particular
stage in my life, it was truly uplifting and very
helpful. It was extremely didactic and fatherly, and
much of it was what children, nowadays, would call
 turning up their noses, meanwhile. But, to the docile
and domestic children of threescore years ago, the
maxims and precepts and godly examples therein
presented were incentives to noble living and many
worthy ambitions. All hail to thee, Uncle John S. C.!
The world may never know nor justly appreciate the good
that was done through the influence of thy preachy,
old-fashioned, long-forgotten Child at Home;
nevertheless I know that some of the good seeds which
it scattered took root and grew up and flourished to
the betterment of many souls.
But, my dear Leonidas, let me whisper to you that that
book was never added to my library. From the day that
it was lent me until the day following Christmas, the
number of my failures at school was so great that I was
more than once in disgrace and threatened with the
"Robert is very low in his recitations to-day,"
reported Charity. "He might do much better if he
"And I offered him a prize if he would be perfect,"
said Patience. "I can't understand why he does so
Nevertheless, after Christmas, when it became
definitely known that on account of my failures the
Child at Home had been presented to the little
lady in Dashville, it was observed that my recitations
and deportment were greatly improved—indeed, were
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