| 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 |
IN THE BIG WOODS
Y terror was indescribable. As I leaped forward along
the uneven roadway, I fancied that the savage beast was
close behind me, his open mouth frothing, his sharp
fangs just ready to bury themselves in my back. In my
agony I would have shriecked, but my tongue seemed
paralyzed; I could not utter a sound. But all this time
I clung instinctively and desperately to the little
kettle which contained the precious fire, resolved
that, come what might, I would never surrender that for
which all these perils had been encountered.
I ran on, following the wagon tracks, until I came to
an open gap in the fence. I went through the gap and
found myself in Old Enoch's hay-field. Everything was
very quiet there, and I mustered courage to look behind
me. No dog or other living thing was in sight. I was
all alone, and safe. Now I must hasten homeward by the
It required but a few moments for me to recover my
bearings. Then crossing the hay-field, I soon came to
the little clearing and the high dividing fence which I
had climbed a short time before. I was not quite sure
where to find the path, however, and so, getting over
into the wild woods, I began to look around for it.
Then to my great joy, Inviz came out from among the
bushes and put his arm around me.
 "O Inviz, I'm so glad thee has come," I said. "I have
had an awful time of it."
"Yes, I know it," he replied. "Little Enick was very
wicked to put thee in such a fright. But it's all over
now, and thee is quite safe."
"That's true," I said, "but I wish I could find the
right path. Then we could run straight home through the
woods and get there before it's dark."
"I think the path is right at the foot of this hill,"
said Inviz. "Let's go down there and see."
So, hand in hand, we ran down the wooded slope until we
came to a little cleared place at the bottom, where
there was a brook; and there, surely enough, was a
path, but whether it was the right one or some other,
we both doubted.
"We might try it, and see where it goes to," said
Darkness was falling very rapidly in the woods, and
presently as we came to a place where the trees stood
quite close together, I had to feel my way with feet
and hands. More than once my heart began to throb, and
I could feel the shivers beginning to pulsate in the
small of my back; and then Inviz would put his warm
cheek against my own, and pat my shoulder gently, and
say, "Courage! Courage! We'll soon be out of this."
But it seemed as though we should never get through
that fearful place. Twice I lost the path and found it
again only by carefully moving to the right and then to
the left and feeling every inch of the ground with my
bare feet. At length, however, a broad opening appeared
among the trees, and above it the moon was shining.
"I think that is our clearing," said Inviz.
 "But it looks strange," I answered.
Full of hope, we pushed straight forward, neglectful of
the path, and quite sure that we were through the woods
and almost home. Then suddenly I heard in front of us a
sound which I had not previously noticed.
"What's that? What's that?"
"It's frogs, Robert!" answered Inviz. "It's frogs, and
this ain't our clearing at all, but it's the big
At the same moment I saw the reflection of the moon
upon the surface of the dark water, and I knew that I
was only a few steps from the edge of the horrible
pool. I started back with an involuntary cry, and as I
did so, there was a sudden rustling in the bushes near
by which made my hair stand on end. It was probably
some harmless night animal disturbed in its haunts and
frightened by so unusual a presence; but my imagination
at once pictured a far more dreadful being.
"It's the Old Feller, and he's after me!" I cried to
Inviz; but my little playmate had deserted me, and I
Then, with all the strength that remained in my body, I
ran back into the dense woods, away from the black
water and the miry shores of the swamp and the fearful
lair of the Evil One. I tripped over a log, and as I
fell, the little kettle with its precious contents was
hurled from my grasp and went bowling along between the
trees. The next moment the red coals were scattered
upon the bare ground and I heard them sizzling in the
With the desperation that gives courage, I was up
again, alternately running and creeping, falling and
rising, feeling my way through thickets of underbrush,
and pausing occasionally in fear as some slight unusual
 sound was heard in the gloom. Several times I fancied
that I saw the Old Feller dodging among the shadows and
ready to catch hold of me at any moment. Twice I
distinctly heard him, at no great distance, calling my
name. His voice sounded much like David's—coarse and
husky—and I felt sure that the old deceiver was
trying to get me into his power by making me believe
that it really was David. Once I saw a light moving
among the trees, and the certainty that this was
carried by some uncanny being made me hasten in the
opposite direction as fast as possible. It never
occurred to me that father and the big boys might be in
these very woods, searching for me with a lantern and
occasionally calling my name.
How long I wandered aimlessly and in fear through the
great forest, I can not tell—it seemed to me ages and
ages. The moon, shining through the tree-tops, shed
just enough light to enable me to distinguish near-by
objects, while it gave to everything a weird and
ghostly appearance which added greatly to my terror.
Often I stumbled over logs and brushwood, I became
entangled in briers, I ran unwittingly into dark
places, from which I escaped with difficulty.
Gradually, however, my fears seemed to wear themselves
out, and little by little I became indifferent to
danger. The woods seemed full of dreadful creatures;
they ran before me, they followed after me, they
grinned at me from behind trees and bushes, they
reached down from the overhanging branches as though
trying to catch me by the hair. Although I was not a
whit more courageous than before, yet my sense of fear
was so benumbed that I shrank from none of those
things. My only thought was that I must keep going,
 At length, to my surprise, I came suddenly into a road—a
good broad road running straight through the woods.
The moon shone so brightly that I could plainly see the
tracks of wagon wheels and the hoof-prints of horses;
and how very soothing and grateful was the warm soft
earth to my tired and wounded feet! And then the
thought came pressing upon me that I must follow this
road, that I must keep going, going, and that I must
never give up until I had left the great woods behind
As I turned to the right, following the wagon tracks, I
heard my name called—oh, so softly!—and the next
moment my invisible playmate was at my side. What a
sense of comfort and companionship came over me, as I
again felt his hand in mine, his arm around me, his
warm breath upon my cheek!
"Oh, Inviz, it was so dark and so scary in the woods!"
"Yes, Robert, but we are safe now. This road is the big
road that goes right past our farm, and all we have to
do is to keep going ahead."
"I am so glad thee is with me, Inviz."
"Yes, and I mean to stay with thee. So be brave, be
With a stout heart, but with feet that were very, very
tender, I pressed forward. After a long time the woods
became less dense, the moon shone brighter, it was
easier to follow the windings of the wagon tracks. Then
we came to an old deadening, and beyond it to a fine
large farm with fields of hay and corn on both sides of
"Cheer up! We shall soon be home," said Inviz.
And then, right before me in the road, I saw the
shadowy form of a huge beast, standing motionless but
 no doubt waiting to seize me as I approached it. At the
same moment I heard a rushing of heavy feat behind me,
as of great animals suddenly roused from their lurking
"Run! Run!" shouted Inviz; and his words awakened new
terror in my heart. I turned instinctively about and
made for the near-by fence, which I climbed without
once glancing behind me; then, leaping over into the
field, I fell sprawling into a great heap of new-mown
hay. At the same moment the tinkle of a cow bell told
me what sort of beasts those were that had given me
this last alarm.
"It's only three or four harmless old cows," laughed
Inviz. "No use to be afraid!"
Oh, what a comfortable feeling it was, to lie there
half buried in the soft sweet-smelling hay! I made no
effort to rise, and presently Inviz came and cuddled
down beside me.
"I like this," I said, nestling deeper into the hay.
"So do I," he answered. "It is so nice and safe here,
and the cows are such good company!"
And then I forgot everything.
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