It was not signed. I read it slowly, because I was not very good at reading, and turned my eyes west—where my mother had gone. I had lost her! How could any one be found who had disappeared into that region which swallowed up thousands every month? I had no clue. I did not believe that Rucker would try to help her find me. She had been kidnaped away from me. I threw myself down on the dead grass, and found the worn-out shoe I had picked up in the closet. It had every curve of her foot—that foot which had taken so many weary steps for me. I put my forehead down upon it, and lay there a long time—so long that when I roused myself and went down to the canal, I had not sat on my old stump a minute when I saw Captain Sproule’s boat approaching from the west. With a heavy heart I stepped aboard, carrying the worn-out shoe and the letter, which I have yet. The boat was the only home left me. It had become my world.
I BECOME A SAILOR, AND FIND A CLUE
I was just past thirteen when I had my great wrestle with loneliness and desertion that night under the old apple-tree at Tempe; and the next three and a half years are not of much concern to the reader who is interested only in the history of Vandemark Township. I was just a growing boy, tussling, more alone than I should have been, and with no guidance or direction, with that problem of keeping soul and body together, which, after all, is the thing with which all of us are naturally obliged to cope all through our lives. I lived here and there, most of the time looking to Eben Sproule as a prop and support, as a boy must look to some one, or fall into bad and dangerous ways—and even then, maybe he will.
I was a backward boy, and this saved me from some deadfalls, I guess; and I had the Dutch hard mouth and a tendency to feel my ground and see how the land lay, which made me take so long to balk at any new vice or virtue that the impulse or temptation was sometimes past before I could get ready to embrace it. I guess there are some who may read this who have let chances for sinful joys go by while an inward debate went on in their own souls; and if they will only own up to it, found themselves afterward guiltily sorry for not falling from grace. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” is Scripture, and must be true if rightly understood; but I wonder if it is as bad for one of us tardy people to regret not having sinned, as it would have been if he had been quicker and done so. I hardly think it can be as bad; for many a saint must have had such experiences—which really is thinking both right and wrong, and doing right, even if he did think wrong afterward.
That first winter, I lived on Captain Sproule’s farm, and had my board, washing and mending. His sister kept house for him, and his younger brother, Finley, managed the place summers, with such help in handling it as the captain had time to give when he passed the farm on his voyages. It was quite a stock farm, and here I learned something about the handling of cattle,—and in those days this meant breaking and working them. It was a hard winter, and there was so much work on the farm that I got only one month’s schooling.