There was a theory coming up in those days, wholly unfounded in physiology, that if a man worked five hours with his hands, he could study better in the next five. It is all nonsense. Exhaustion is exhaustion; and if you exhaust a vessel by one stopcock, nothing is gained or saved by closing that and opening another. The old up-country theory is the true one. Study ten weeks and chop wood fifteen; study ten more and harvest fifteen. But the “Manual-Labor School” offered itself for really no pay, only John Myers and I carried over, I remember, a dozen barrels of potatoes when I went there with my books. The school was kept at Roscius, and if I would work in the carpenter’s shop and on the school farm five hours, why they would feed me and teach me all they knew in what I had of the day beside.
“Felix,” said John, as he left me, “I do not suppose this is the best school in the world, unless you make it so. But I do suppose you can make it so. If you and I went whining about, looking for the best school in the world, and for somebody to pay your way through it, I should die, and you would lose your voice with whining, and we should not find one after all. This is what the public happens to provide for you and me. We won’t look a gift-horse in the mouth. Get on his back, Felix; groom him well as you can when you stop, feed him when you can, and at all events water him well and take care of him well. My last advice to you, Felix, is to take what is offered you, and never complain because nobody offers more.”
Those words are to be cut on my seal-ring, if I ever have one, and if Dr. Anthon or Professor Webster will put them into short enough Latin for me. That is the motto of the “Children of the Public.”
John Myers died before that term was out. And my more than mother, Betsy, went back to her friends in Maine. After the funeral I never saw them more. How I lived from that moment to what Fausta and I call the Crisis is nobody’s concern. I worked in the shop at the school, or on the farm. Afterwards I taught school in neighboring districts. I never bought a ticket in a lottery or a raffle. But whenever there was a chance to do an honest stroke of work, I did it. I have walked fifteen miles at night to carry an election return to the Tribune’s agent at Gouverneur. I have turned out in the snow to break open the road when the supervisor could not find another man in the township.
When Sartain started his magazine, I wrote an essay in competition for his premiums, and the essay earned its hundred dollars. When the managers of the “Orphan Home,” in Baltimore, offered their prizes for papers on bad boys, I wrote for one of them, and that helped me on four hard months. There was no luck in those things. I needed the money, and I put my hook into the pork-barrel,—that is, I trusted the Public. I never had but one stroke of luck in my life. I wanted a new pair of boots badly. I was going to walk to Albany,