| 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 |
T was very late in the night when Jonathan returned
home—and he was alone. We heard him as he led the
filly into the barn and with extreme quietness to her
stall. Father rose, and lighting the old tin lantern,
went out to have an opportunity with him. My own
temporary sleeping quarters being in the haymow, I
could not help being an involuntary although very
interested listener to all that was said.
"Is that thee, Jonathan?" and father's voice trembled
"I reckon 'tain't nobody else," was the petulant reply.
"Well, thee has occasioned me a great deal of anxiety,
and I venture to say that thy name is on the tongue of
every man and woman in the New Settlement."
"I don't keer if it is."
"But is thee aware that thy riding away with Esther Fox
and not coming back till this late hour will cause a
vast amount of scandal?"
"I didn't ride away with no Fox, I rid away with a
Lamb—and we hain't nary one of us none the wuss
for it, nother."
"But what has thee done with Esther—with the Lamb
as thee insists upon calling her?"
"Well, I hain't done nothin' wrong with her, I tell
thee that," answered Jonathan in a tone half-exultant,
half-  defiant. "I s'pose thee'd like to know all about it,
"Yes, I want a full account of thy transactions," and
father spoke huskily and with grim decision. "If thee
ever expects to be received again into our family as an
adopted son, thee must clear thy skirts of all blame in
"Well, I kinder reckon I can do that," returned
Jonathan, straightening himself up and pulling at his
galluses. "My coat tails hain't been draggled the least
mite and if thee'll only listen to reason I'll prove it
"My mind is free to consider whatever thee has to say,"
And so the two sat down upon the edge of the feed box,
with the faint glimmer of the tine lantern playing upon
their features, and the young man in his characteristic
homely manner, related his story.
"Well, it was Patience, she put me up to it. When I
heerd her sayin' her piece about that there tarnal
young feller lockin' the bars, it set me to thinkin'
whether I mightn't ride off with Esther, jist like that
feller done with his gal; for thee knows Old Enick,
he's always been dead set ag'inst me havin' her. So I
told Patience about it and she says, 'Go ahead'; and
her and Charity and Esther, they put their heads
together and made up the whole thing, how we'd fool Old
Enick and ride double over to Dashville and take the
short cut in spite of the tarnal Discipline and
everything else. And Patience she even seen Henry
Meredith, and Henry he seen Judge Davis about it and
made it up with him how he was to splice us in a hurry,
as quick as we got to his offist. And Charity she fixed
it with Isaac Wilson and
 his wife how we was to stay at their house a day or two
till we found out how Old Enick was a-takin' it. For
thee knows Isaac's wife, she's Esther's mother's own
aunt, and she's named after her, and she's always
kinder had a likin' for her."
"Yes, I know," said father dryly. "Go on with thy
"Well, it was Patience, she put me up to it," continued
Jonathan. "She's purty slick, I tell thee, when it
comes to cunnin'. I seen all the time that she wasn't
quite clear in her mind about us takin' the short cut.
'It's a mighty pore way of gittin' spliced,' she said,
'and it's sure to land you both outside of Our Society;
for you'll be turned out of meetin' without mercy,' she
said. And then Esther, she would begin to cry; cause
she didn't know what to do; for it's a turble thing to
be turned out of meetin'."
"I know all that, too," said father, growing impatient.
"Go on with thy narrative."
"Well, it was Patience, she put us up to it; and she
said, 'If you can only skeer Old Enick right bad, maybe
he'll give his consent at the last minute, and then you
can get spliced right, after all.' And she said to me,
'Lochinvar, if I was thee, I would try it.' And I told
her I would. So, when we rid away on the filly, Esther
and me, we went kinder slow; for we wanted to give Old
Enick another chance. We was sure he'd foller us, and
we didn't keer if he did; for everything was fixed up,
and we knowed that he couldn't help hisself, no matter
how ugly he wanted to be."
He paused a few minutes to give the filly some grain,
and then resumed his story.
"It was Patience, she put us up to it. When we rid
 away, we didn't go in no hurry, for we wanted him to
foller us. But after a while we got to the river, and
we seen Dashville in plain sight on t'other side, and
there wa'n't no sign of him nowhere. Then I said to
Esther, 'I guess, maybe, we'll have to be spliced by
the short cut, after all. Thy grandfăther, he don't
seen to be a follerin' us very brisk.' And jist then we
come to the ferry, and she begun to cry.
"The ferryboat was on t'other side, and the feller that
runs it, he was settin' at the eend of it, a-fishin'.
Me and Esther, we lighted from the filly, and I
hollered to him to come and take us acrost. But he was
e'en-a-most ketchin' a big black bass that was teasin'
his hook, and he hollered back to us to wait a bit till
he yanked the fish in. I hollered to him that we was in
right smart of a hurry; but he jist kep' on fishin' for
that there black bass as if it was the onliest thing
under the sun. I hollered ag'in, and let on as if I was
hoppin' mad about it, but he jist kep' on. Seems to me
we stood on the bank, waitin' for the tarnal feller,
fully a half an hour. By'm-by, the black bass it swum
away without takin' the hook, and the feller poled his
boat acrost to where we was standin'. I was so tarnal
mad that I felt like lickin' him, and I think I would
'a' done it, too, if it hadn't been for Esther. I
kinder hated for her to see me a-fightin'."
"Thee would have disgraced thyself and thy relations,
and I am glad thee restrained thy temper," said father;
"but go on with thy narrative."
"Well, we went on to the boat, me and the filly and
Esther, and the feller was jist pushin' off into the
water, when we heerd a great clatterin' of horse's
hufs, and we looked up, and there come Old Enick on his
gray mare, a-gallopin' right down to the river. He
hollered to the
 feller on the boat, and told him to wait, but the
feller jist kep' on and didn't so much as look around.
He said to me that he was in a hurry to git acrost to
see if there wa'n't a fish on the line he had set
there; and he said he wouldn't turn back for nobody.
"Old Enick, he come a-poundin' down to the river, and
jist as the boat bunped ag'inst t'other side, he rid up
and stopped at the landin' on this side. He was all out
of breath, and so was the gray mare, but he didn't seem
a bit mad. As soon as he could git his breath a leetle,
he hollered out to Esther and axed her where she was
goin' to. She hollered back and told him that we was
goin' to Dashville to be spliced, and the jedge was
'spectin' us and the papers was all writ up ready to be
signed. And Enick, he hollers ag'in and says he won't
allow no sich thing, and tells her she must go right
back home with him on the gray mare.
"Then I hollers back to him, and I says, 'Esther ain't
a-goin' to do no sich thing. She ain't no Fox, she's a
Lamb, and she's promised to b'long to me. If thee won't
give her leave to be spliced the right way, then her
and me, we'll take the short cut, and thee cain't help
"Then Enick, he hollered to me that he wouldn't never
allow any sich thing to be did; and I guess we stood
and hollered back and forth acrost the river longer'n
it takes to break up a settin' hen. Then I led the
filly out of the boat and up to a stump by the road,
and me and Esther we let on as if we was a-goin' to
ride right off into the town. Old Enick, he hollered to
the feller in the boat to come and git him, but the
feller was in great hopes of that there black bass
ag'in, and he let on not to hear him. I seen that
Esther's grandfăther was beginnin' to melt,
 and so I tetched on a com-promise that I'd been
thinkin' of all along.
" 'Enick Fox,' I hollered, 'thee sees that Esther and
me, we're bound to git spliced and thee cain't help it.
We'd like to git spliced the right way, but if thee
won't let us, then it will be thy fault if we go
ag'inst the Discipline. I know thee donít like me, but
I'm bound and set on havin' Esther; and if thee will
only sign a little paper that I have already writ out,
we'll go right back home with thee and be good friends
with thee as long as we live!'
"Then he hollered out and axed me what it was that was
writ on that piece of paper, and I took it out of my
hat linin' and read it to him so loud that the
ferryboat feller, he laughed and skeered his black bass
"It was Patience, she put me up to it, and it was her
that writ it with her own quill pen on a leaf of her
copybook. Here is it, făther; thee may read it."
He took from his hat a carefully folded bit of bluish
foolscap, and father bending low over the feeble
flickering lantern, read aloud the writing that was on
"To the Dry Forks Monthly Meeting—
"I hereby give my consent to the marriage of my
granddaughter, Esther Lamb, with my young friend
Jonathan Dudley, provided they get married in
accordance with the rules of our Discipline.
"That's it," exclaimed Jonathan. "It was all writ jist
so, 'ceptin' the name, and I read it to him as loud as
I could. Then Enick, he hummed and hawed and kicked the
sand a little bit, and at last he hollered back and
 he reckoned that when young folks made up their minds
to git spliced, the Old Feller hisself couldn't stop
'em with all his fire and brimstun. And he said he'd
rather see one of his datters in her grave than to let
her be spliced to anybody ag'inst the Discipline, and
as to his granddatter, he reckoned if she could stand
it to live with a Dudley he could maybe stand it to let
her have one of 'em, but he vowed and declared that he
never could begin to stand it if she got spliced
to me ag'inst the Discipline.
"Then I hollered back to him, and I says, 'What's thee
goin' to do about this here little writin' I've jist
read to thee?'
"And he hollers and says, 'I reckon I'll sign it. Thee
come back to this side with Esther and thy filly, and
I'll sign it, and then we'll all ride home together.
'Tain't no use for us to be a-hagglin' over this matter
"I seen from the way he spoke that he was clean beat;
and Esther she was so glad that she begun to cry ag'in.
Jist then the ferryboat feller, he ketched his
fishin'-line on to a snag and lost his hook and us and
the filly we went back on to the boat. He wanted me to
pay him another levy for ferryin' us over; but I told
him we had changed our minds and that, seein' we had
rued the bargain, it was for him to give me back the
levy I had paid him when we first went on to his boat.
The feller, he got mad, and I had e'en a great mind to
fling him into the river; but Esther, she kinder
"When we got back to this side, there was Enick,
a-holdin' his gray mare by the bridle. He shuck hands
with us both, and I never dreamt that he could be so
friendly and nice to anybody. And then I laid the piece
of paper up ag'inst the smooth part of his saddle and
 him my piece of keel to write with, and he signed his
name, jist as thee sees it there. Then he shuck hands
with us ag'in, and called us his children and said he
reckoned we might as well ride back home together. So
he got on the gray mare, and I got on the filly, and
Esther she up behind me, and we left the ferryboat
feller on the landin' a-sayin' bad words about us.
"When we got to Enick's big gate, Esther, she slipped
off of the filly's back and run to the house. But we'd
made it up to give in at the monthly meetin' in next
Third-month, and Enick, he agreed to it. And so thee
sees I hain't done no bad thing to-day a-tryin' to be
like that there young Lockin'-the-bars, have I?"
"I am glad that thee has done so well," said father,
taking his hand; "and I am glad that thy troubles have
been so happily adjusted. We shall all rejoice to have
so capable a young woman as Esther Lamb become a member
of our family, and it is very pleasing to know that
Friend Enoch has consented to it."
The candle in the old lantern had burned down to the
light flickered desperately for a moment, and then
vanished. The barn was in total darkness. And as father
groped his way back to his couch, I heard the Seth
Thomas clock strike twelve.
Thus ended a most eventful day.
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