| 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 |
NEWS FROM THE COUNTY SEAT
HE next evening just as the full moon was rising above
the tree-tops, our farm wagon with the two young horses
attached was driven quietly out through the front
gateway. On the driver's seat was David with his coat
and boots on, for the air was frosty; and by his side
say 'Lihu Bright, the Widder's eldest son, a man well
skilled in the operation of the "underground." There
were a number of large pumkins in the wagon, and in the
midst of them, peeping out from a loose heap of straw,
was a round, woolly, black head, which I recognized as
that of the fugitive.
We stood by the gate to see them off.
"Well, Elihu," said father, "we are trusting this
whole business to thee. Thee has been over the road and
thee knows the way, and thee understands what to do in
case there is any trouble."
"I don't think there's much danger of getting into
trouble," answered 'Lihu. "We shall drive around
through the Wild Cat Settlement instead of by way of
Dashville, although it is three or four miles farther.
We'll cross the river at the North Ford, and then
foller the state road straight to Hezekiah Jone's.
There ain't many houses along that way, and I doubt if
we shall meet a single person. I've driv over that road
many and many a time, and I know every foot of it even
in the night."
 "And when does thee suppose you will get to
"Some time about midnight, I hope. Then we'll leave
the passenger in Hezekiah's charge; and after we've let
the horses rest a spell, we'll drive down to Dashville
and then back home. You may look for us about this time
"I see thee understands thyself, and I hope you will
get along all right," said father. Then reaching his
hand over toward the little woolly head in the midst of
the pumpkins, he added, "Farewell, Samuel. It is my
fervent wish that thee may get to the end of thy
journey in safety."
A long black arm emerged from the straw and the
semi-darkness, and there was a friendly shaking of
"Goo'-by, massah! I's 'bleeged."
"Git ep!" cried David, slapping the horses with the
And they were away.
"Farewell, Samuel!" It was the voice of Cousin Mandy
Jane, calling from the door-step; but the annex to the
underground, together with its passengers, had already
disappeared in the murky shadows of the lane.
We stood and listened until long after they had
turned into the big road and were speeding straight
toward Dry Forks and the lonely country beyond.
Occasionally we could hear the crunching of the wheels
in some gravelly portion of the highway, or the clatter
of the horses' hoofs as they cantered down some smooth
incline, or the slam-bang of the wagon as it jolted
over rocks and projecting roots and into treacherous
chuck-holes. Little by little, these sounds became
fainter and less frequent, and
fi-  nally, listen as intently as we might, no sounds came
to our ears save the chirping of belated katydids and
the melancholy hootings of a pair of owls down in the
"I reckon we had better go in out of the night air,"
And this I was glad to do; for the fire was blazing
brightly, and my new book was waithing for me on the
bookshelf, and Inviz was impatient to come and sit by
my side while I read the charming story of Robinson.
The next day the weather had changed. Gray clouds
obscured the sky, and a chilling mist hung in the air,
filling the trees with moisture and the whole world
with melancholy. All our thoughts were with David and
'Lihu and the fugitive black man; and all our
conversation consisted of speculations concerning their
where-abouts and their safety and the probability of
slave-hunters having captured them and carried them
away to distant ungodly Kentucky.
Toward evening the mist changed into a drizzling
rain, and our anxiety and downheartedness were
correspondingly increased. But these feelings were of
short duration; for when all of us were again assembled
in our great living-room, and the fire was leaping up
the chimney, and the supper things were cleared away,
and each of us was busy after his own fashion,
cheerfulness gradually returned and we almost forgot
the two heroes who must now be somewhere out in the
cold and rain.
Father drew his shoemaker's bench from its place
under Aunt Rachel's bed, and setting it near the center
of the room began the task of putting new half-soles on
Cousin Mandy Jane's every-day shoes, of which, the
weather now growing colder, she would soon be in need.
 In order that he might see distinctly, a candle was
lighted and placed on the candlestick quite near his
elbow. Mother, with her sewing, sat down on the farther
side of the candlestand, while I with my book in hand,
doubled myself up on the floor near her feet.
"The candle is lots better for Robert to read by than
the firelight," remarked Cousin Mandy Jane, busily
wiping the dishes. "It's safer like, and ain't so
tryin' on the eyes."
"It's better for sewin', too," said mother.
"It ain't no better for knittin'," muttered Aunt
Rachel. "I can knit jist as well in one light as in
Father had fitted a last in one of the shoes and had
cut the half-soles to the proper size. He turned
quietly to me and said, "I think, Robert, that we would
all enjoy hearing thee read some of Robinson Crusoe's
I had already perused more than half of the volume,
but I was so proud of the honor of reading aloud to the
rest of the family that I now turned back to the
beginning in order that every one might have a true
understanding of the narrative. All were busy at work,
and yet I knew that I would have at least three
attentive listeners—father, mother, and Mandy
Jane. As for Aunt Rachel, what cared she for hear about
Robinson's adventures so long as she could have
recourse to her new pipe, her knitting and happy
memories of old Carliny? And, as for Jonathan, he was a
hater of books and never a good listener; and as he sat
on the farther side of the hearth, shelling corn for
the mill, he had no room in his mind for any thoughts
save dreams of pretty Esther Lamb and the forty-acre
piece down by the Corners.
 I cleared my throat several times and then began: "I
was born in the year 1632 in the City of York."
Scarcely had I pronounced this first sentence, when
father started in with his pegging. A rare concert
followed. Whether father timed his tapping with my
somewhat rapid delivery of words, or whether I
unconciously tuned my voice to harmonize with the
regular thump-thumping of his hammer, I can not say;
but certainly we had a most joyous time of it.
"Thump! rap-tap! Thump! rap-tap!" sounded the little
round-headed shoemaker's hammer, alternately pounding
the awl into the leather and then driving home the
little pegs; and the syllables fell from my lips with
almost equal regularity and precision. Paragraph after
paragraph was read, and leaf after leaf was turned; and
at length the "half-solin'" was nearing completion.
Once I paused to snuff the candle, and Cousin Mandy
Jane availed herself of the opportunity to remark:
"Sakes alive! It's as good as a quiltin'. It's a sight
more interestin' than George Fox's Journal."
And mother was of the same mind save with reference
to a single point. "It would have been right smart
better," she said, "if Robinson had used the plain
language instead of the language of the world's
I was now just in the midst of the account of the
great storm, "when the wind still blowing very hard,
the ship struck upon a sand, and in a moment the sea
broke over her." I can never forget that passage. The
situation was so perilous, the suspence was so great,
that as I pronounced the words, the shoe hammer in
father's uplifted hand paused before descending, the
"rap-tap-tap" was omitted for the full space of three
seconds, and every one of my hearers waited breathless
to hear what happened
 next. With a quaver in my voice I proceeded, and the
tension was relaxed. (O my dear Leonidas, my dear
Leona! You know not the delights of proverty. Surfeited
with "advantages" and overgorged with "blessings," you
are incapable of such joys as were mine on that
well-remembered evening. A book to you is only a
book—an inanimate thing; to the poor only is it
"the precious life blood of a master spirit.")
The last shoe peg was driven home. The new half-soles
were neatly trimmed and smoothed. Father was preparing
the lampblack with which to blacken their raw edges;
and my reading had progressed to the culmination of the
next great crisis when "a mountain-like wave took us
with such fury that it overset the boat at once, giving
us not time hardly to say, O God! for we were
swallowed up in a moment."
And there I stopped; for we heard the sound of wheels
and the creaking of the barnyard gate and David's
rasping voice calling to his brother to "come out here
and take keer of these 'yer tarnal critters." Instantly
a change came over the spirit of our dreams. Jonathan,
waking with a start from his pleasant meditations,
rushed out to obey the summons; mother rose to stir the
fire; and Cousin Mandy Jane began hurriedly to assemble
some half-cold victuals for the returned hero's supper.
I ran to the window, and looking toward the barn, could
dimly see in the tempered darkness the outline of the
old wagon with the light of our little tin lantern
flickering faintly at the foot of the dashboard.
Father, with some little compromise of dignity, quickly
put the finnishing touches to the new half-soles, and
rising, pushed the shoe bench back to its place beneath
the bed. He was turning toward the door when David
 chilled, wet, and disgruntled with his long ride
through the drizzling rain. He stumbled toward the
fireplace, removing his water-soaked coat and hat and
stamping his big boots upon the hearthstones.
"Where's Elihu?" asked father, somewhat anxiously.
"He went on home by the short cut," answered David
crustily. "If thee only knowed how tarnal chilly I am,
thee wouldn't be so much concerned about 'Lihu."
He stood in close proximity to the fire, turning
first one side toward the generous heat, and then the
other; and all the while he continued to give vent to a
series of bearish grunts and growls and lamentations as
incoherent as they were unnecessary.
"Say, Robert, thee little Towhead, thee!" he blurted;
"go and fetch me the bootjack."
I obeyed silently and sulkily, for I didn't like his
rude way of talking.
"Thee's as slow as m'lasses in cold weather," he
growled, as he snatched the useful jack from my hands
and proceeded, with its assistance, to pull off his
boots. It was a hard job accompanied with such
straining and complaining; and when it was finally
accomplished he sat down by the hearth and stretched
his steaming bare feet toward the cheery fire.
We bore with him gently, well knowing that as soon as
he was made comfortable, his good spirits would begin
to return and he would be anxious to tell us all about
his adventures in the service of freedom. So we asked
no questions, but patiently looked on and bided our
time. And, in order that he might enjoy his supper in
the full warmth of the fire, mother motioned to me to
set the candlestand close beside him on the hearth.
"That's right, Towhead," he said in tones
 and much mollified; "and if somebody's only hustle with
them there victuals I'd be glad all round. I'm so
tarnal hungry I do b'lieve I could swaller a yoke of
steers without half chawin' 'em."
And the victuals were not long delayed; Cousin Mandy
Jane, with astonishing alacrity, loaded the candlestand
with a variety of homely eatables in quantites
sufficient to satisfy the appetite of the hungriest
man. Nor did David delay his onslaught upon them, but
began with ruthless zeal to devour whatever came first
to his hand—a squash pie, a glass of preserves,
roas'n'-ears, pickles, corn dodgers, and vast supplies
of fat pork and string beans—until the wonder
was that one capacious stomach could contain so much.
Then, pausing between mouthfuls of boiled cabbage and
currant jam, he called out, "Cousin Mandy Jane, if
thee'll only fetch me three or four cups of that there
coffee, sizzlin' hot, I reckon it'll drive some of
these tarnal shivers out of my marrer bones."
"Th'ain't no coffee," said Cousin Mandy Jane. "It's
all slave labor and we daresn't use it."
"What does thee think I keer for the labor of it?" he
answered. "When a feller's plumb gone flabbergasted by
ridin' all day in the cold, it ain't no time to be
pertickler about sich things as slave labor and free
"But the coffee hain't been browned yet," mother
explained in her peacefulest, purring tones. "It would
have to be roasted and ground and b'iled, and that
would take a longer time than thee wants to wait.
'Twould take anyhow a half-hour."
"Well, then, give me somethin' else that's hot. I
don't keer what it is, jist so it'll wrastle with the
tarnal shivers that's in my marrer bones."
 "How will some pennyrile tea do?" asked mother.
"It'll do all right if thee'll make it hot enough and
strong enough," he answered. "I don't keer if it's
strong enough to bear up an iron wedge eendwise; it'll
be all the more soothin' and warmin'."
And so, under the wholesome influence of the fire,
the food and the stimulating drink, the effects of the
dampness and night air were overcome and there was a
glow in David's cheeks that told of returned comfort
and good nature. He glanced around at our inquiring
faces, and fidgeted uneasily in his chair; and still no
one ventured to ask a question. The fire was now making
him altogether too warm, drops of sweat were oozing
from his forehead, the chills had finally been driven
ingloriously from his marrer bones, the hero was ready
to talk; and still we waited in silence.
"I reckon nobody don't keer to hear nothin' about our
trip to Uncle Hezekiah's," he finally muttered, sliding
his chair backward till he was well away from the now
The psychological moment had arrived for which we had
been waiting; and father therefore gently responded, "I
s'pose thee and 'Ligu got through safe, or else thee
wouldn't be here now."
"Safe! Well, I should reckon! We didn't lose the road
nary time, and we didn't meet nary a livin' soul 'twixt
here and the Wild Cat Settlement. I tell thee, 'Lihu
Bright knowed the way, else we'de never got along them
tarnal roads by moonlight. And what does thee think?
That good-for-nothin' black feller that was puttin' us
to all that trouble, he jist laid among the punkins and
slept like a darnick till we driv up to Uncle
Hezekiah's door; and then we had to 'most shake the
giz-  zard out of him 'fore he'd stir himself and git up and
go into the house."
His tongue being thus once started, the hero
continued to rattle out his somewhat rambling
narrative, interjecting his speech with many
repetitions and homely metaphors, and giving none of us
room to say a word or ask a question. In the end we
gathered that the expedition had been eminently
successful. After a rapid drive of five hours the
fugitive had been safely landed at Hezekiah Jones's
just as the clock was striking midnight. Uncle
Hezekiah, having been mysteriously apprised of their
coming, was prepared to receive them. The fugitive was
hidden in the loft to remain there until the way was
clear to convey him to the next station. The weary
horses were stabled and fed; and Elihu and David
retired to rest in Uncle Hezekiah's best room, where
they slept the sleep of the righteous in Aunt Jane's
best feather-bed. Then at seven in the morning they
breakfasted, presented the pumpkins to Uncle Hezekiah
and prepared for the return trip by way of Dashville,
the county seat.
"We driv down along the river," continued David, "and
I reckon it was about ten o'clock when we 'riv' in the
town. And thee jist ought to see!" And here he slapped
his thigh. "Thee wouldn't know the place. Why, I
counted ten new houses, strung along both sides of the
road, and there's as many more jist beginnin' to go up.
It made me think of Larnceburg—sich a tarnal
noise of hammerin' and sawin', and sich crowds of
people walkin' along the paths by the side of the road.
. . . And then, what does thee think? The Methodisters,
they've jist put up a bran-new meetin'-house, with a
steeple on to it. And right down ag'inst the
 the county's built a new jail with iron bars 'crosst
the winders. Me an' 'Lihu, we went down to see it, and
I tell thee it made me think of Larnceburg."
He paused for breath, and father quietly remarked, "I
suppose that people are flocking to Dashville on
account of the railroad that's about to connect it with
Nopplis. Calvin Fletcher told me last spring that they
had already begun work on it."
"Begun!" exclaimed David. "I should reckon 'tis
begun; it's most finished. And what does thee think? I
met old Isaac Wilson over there. Thee knows old Isaac
"Certainly, we used to be playmates, when we were
boys. What's he doing in Dashville?"
"He's keepin' a store; and he took me into it, and
showed me all the things he's got to sell. He says that
it's his 'pinion that Dashville will soon be the
biggest town in Injanner. He says that the railroad is
bound to make the place grow and he wouldn't be
s'prised if it got clean ahead of Nopplis inside of the
next five years. Oh, I tell thee, things is a-hummin'
"Well, I'm truly glad to hear about Isaac Wilson,"
said father. "I hope he will do well with his store."
"If thee could jist see what he's got in it!"
exclaimed David. "Why! th' ain't nothin' he hain't got;
and he gives trade for all the butter 'n' aigs the
folks'll fetch in. He said that when the railroad gits
started to runnin', he's goin' to buy wheat and wool
aand everything jist like they do at Larnceburg. He
said for me to tell thee that we won't have to go to
the 'Hio no more, nor even to Nopplis, 'cause we can do
jist as well at the county seat."
"That is surely bringing the markets to our very
 door," said father. "I never expected that such a thing
would happen in my lifetime."
"Thee's right!" and David slapped his thigh most
vigorously. "And Isaac said that he reckons the
railroad will begin runnin' cars to Dashville afore
spring. And, what does thee think? While the horses was
restin' and eatin' by the court-house fence, 'Lihu and
me went down toward the river to look at where they're
diggin' for the road. Well, thee never seen so big a
ditch in thy life; it's more'n twice as wide as our
crick at the swimmin' hole, and it's deep enough to
swaller a house; but there ain't no water in it. It's
jist a cut, as they call it, right through the bluffs,
so as to make the road kinder level like. We watched
the men that was diggin' it a while and then we went
round by the post-office; and I reckon it must have
been nigh on to two o'clock when we hitched up and
started home—and we hadn't come a mile afore
this tarnal drizzlin' rain begun."
"Did thee git any mail at the post-office?" inquired
Cousin Mandy Jane.
"Nary a thing 'ceptin' two Erays for the
Widder's folks and a letter for Joel Sparker that we
mustn't forgit to take to meetin' for him to-morrow.
But what does thee think? Isaac Wilson, he told us that
the president was goin' to set up a new post-office
right over here at the Dry Forks. It's to be in Seth
Dawson's smith shop, and Seth he's been 'pinted
"Well, I'm not so much surprised as gratified to hear
that," said father. "We've been working two or three
years to get a post-office established somewhere in the
Settlement. But, certainly, things are moving rapidly
"Thee's right! And thee'd 'a' thought, so if thee'd
 seen how rapidly the post-boy moves. We met him jist as
we were drivin' out of town. He was on a sorrel pony
and had the mail-bag strapped tight on to the saddle
under him; and he was ridin', lickity cut, toward the
post-office and was goin' so fast that he didn't nod
his head nor holler 'Howdy' as he passed us. They do
say that he rides all the way from Nopplis to Terry Hut
every week, a-carryin' letters and things to the
different places. And his mail-bag was stuffed so full
with letter's 'n' things that he couldn't hardly set on
"I suppose we'll see him quite often down this way
when the post-office gets started at the Forks,"
remarked father. "But has thee got Joel Sparker's
letter with thee?"
"Yes, father! It's in my coat pocket, and that ain't
all, nother!" he answered, speaking excitedly as though
he had been suddenly reminded of something. He lumbered
across the room and picked up his water- soaked coat
which mother had hung on a chair to dry, and from its
capacious pockets brought forth the letter, wet,
discolored and badly crumpled.
"Here's the tarnal thing," he said contemptuously.
"There was five cents postage on it, and don't thee
give it to old Joel till he pays it, nother. And here's
somethin' else I brung;" and he partially unfolded a
printed sheet which appeared to have pictures printed
on it. "What does thee reckon it is, Towhead?"
The smile which broadened his grisly visage was truly
wonderful to see, and our curiousity was excited to the
highest pitch. "Open it, so we can see what's on to it,
David," said Cousin Mandy Jane.
"Aw! thee shet up!" growled the big fellow. "I reckon
if anybody gits to see it, it's Towhead. It was
 give to me in Dashville by a man with slicked-up boots
on his feet and a white collar round his neck. He axed
me if we had any children to our house; and I said,
'One leetle tow-headed shave;' and he said, 'Kin he
read?' I laughed right out, and said, 'Well, he don't
do nothin' else, so fur as I ever knowed.' Then the
man, he laughed, and stuck this paper in my hand, and
says he, 'Take this home and tell the leetle tow-headed
shaver to read it out loud to the rest of you.' So I
guess Towhead will be the one to git the first squint
Then, with a look of mingled triumph and
condenscension, he slowly unfolded the mysterious sheet
and spread it out right before my eyes. It was larger
by half than a sheet of the National Era, and
was printed on only one side. Some of the head-lines,
which were in very large type, were red while others
were blue; and all around the border there was a row of
pictures too wonderful to be described. The
illustrations of birds and beasts in my "Animal Book,"
or in Parley's Geography were plain and
insignificant when compared with them. Here were vivid
representations of lions and tigers, of elephants and
zebras, of monkeys and galloping horses, and of
indescribable two-legged creatures in the act of
jumping through a series of barrel hoops.
I read the bold head-line at the top:
VAN BAMBURG'S GREAT MORAL EXHIBITION
—And underneath it the exhortation,
"Be sure to come and bring the children."
I continued reading, and with some difficulty made out
the statement that this gigantic aggregation of
zoological and ornithological wonders was now on its
the Wabash Country and would, at an early date, be on
exhibition at the town of Dashville—"for one
"Read it out loud, Towhead," commanded David, his
countenance beaming with pride at the thought that he
had been the carrier and custodian of so wonderful a
"Yes, read it so the rest of us can hear all about
it," cried Cousin Mandy Jane.
How proud I felt as I complied with this request! I
began at the first line and read tremblingly, while the
whole family stood near, listening intently, looking at
the pictures and inwardly wondering. There were many
big words that I had never seen before, and of whose
meaning I had not the slightest idea, but we gathered
the information that this was the finest menagerie of
wild beasts ever seen in Indiana, and that besides its
many other features it was truly the most astounding
moral exhibition ever presented for the instruction and
edification of the human race.
Finally, after pausing many times to explain some
difficult passage, I reached in triumph the bottom line
where the prices of admission were given and the
injunction was repeated to "be sure to come and bring
the little ones."
"Jist think!" ejaculated Cousin Mandy Jane: "only
twenty-five cents to git in and see all them wonderful
and preposterous animiles! And children half price!"
"Yes, jist think of it! And all them things is goin'
to be at Dashville for folks to look at, next
Fourth-day!" exclaimed David, slapping his thigh most
"Yes," said Jonathan, examining the pictures,
"they've got a elephant, and a tiger, and a lion, and a
 snake, and a fox, and four queer-lookin' monkeys, and
every other kind of animile thee can think of."
"And they've got a moral, too!" cried Cousin Mandy
Jane. " 'The greatest moral show on earth,' the paper
says. I'd jist like to see that there moral—I'd
like to see what kind of a animile it's like!"
Thereupon father smiled and gently corrected her
ignorance. "The dictionary," he said, in closing,
"defines moral to mean upright, honest. So I take it
for granted that a moral show is one that shows people
certain things that are upright and improving."
"I'd like mighty well to see all them animiles,"
remarked Jonathan; "but I'll be dog-goned if I wouldn't
look at the money a right smart while afore I'd pay it
out to go to any sich a show. Two levies ain't much,
but every little helps; and what good would it do to
look at them there tarnal beastesses, anyhow?"
"The paper says it's a moral show," I ventured to
observe; "and so, maybe it will do a good deal of good.
And then it says, 'Children half price. Come, and don't
forget to bring the little ones'. I wish I could go."
Then Aunt Rachel roused herself and spoke from her
corner: "When I was a gal down to Carliny, I used to go
to sich shows. They was mighty divertin'; but I never
seen nobody git religion by goin' to 'em. There was one
man that had three bears in a little tent, and I paid a
penny to see 'em; but I'd never do it ag'in."
"Well, I wish I could go to this show," I repeated,
feeling quite desperate.
"Yes, it'd do thee some good, I'm a-thinkin'," said
Aunt Rachel; "and if father will let thee go, I'll give
thee a levy to git in with."
"Oh, if I only could go!" I cried.
 "Indeed, Robert, I should like for thee to see the
animals, and I must confess that I have some desire to
see them myself," said father. "But I am not quite
clear in my mind whether it would be right for us to
attend this show. If it is only a wordly diversion,
intended to amuse the frivolous, we ought to bear a
testimony against it; but if it is really instructive
and improving to the mind, we ought to encourage it."
"Well, it is instructive, for this paper says
so," and I pointed to the very words, all painted in
bold red letters. "And it says the show is upright and
honest, too! 'Undoubtedly the most entertaining and
most instructive moral exhibition now in existence.'"
"Them's mighty convincin' words," muttered Aunt
"And that's a mighty purty paper with the picters of
animiles all round the edges," said Cousin Mandy Jane.
"Wouldn't it look nice tacked up over the mantel in the
big-house where all the folks that come visitin' can
"Thee's right!" exclaimed David. "It'd set things off
right smart. I'll git a couple of shingle nails and
stick it up there this very night, if father says I
"Wait till to-morrow," said father; and then turning
to me, he added, "Robert, thee may fetch me the Book."
I obeyed; and he read how Noah gathered all creation
into his three-hundred-foot ark, "every beast after his
kind and every bird of every sort—two and two
of all flesh."
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