THE next day I got a job
at breaking stone. It was on the turnpike out in the country, and I
found a boarding-place with a farmer. The contractor who hired me stood
sponsor for my board.
When I was shown to my
room in the farmers house, I stepped for the first time into a bedroom.
I turned snail-like about
me to get the meaning of the neatly arranged furniture; of the pictures
on the walls.
My gaze came to rest on
the snowy pillows and equally snowy sheets neatly turned down.
I looked long at the bed
before I neared it. I touched it cautiously. The thing under my hand
shrank down and seemed to flinch, as though hurt by the contact. I
stepped quickly back.
A thing like that was not
made for me to sleep in.
The thought enraged me. I
walked up and struck the thing with both my clenched fists, throwing all
my weight into the blow. My arms sank to the elbow.
It was a feather bed.
I wondered how a person
could sleep with a thing like that shrinking and squirming about him
every time he moved.
I took off my dilapidated
coat, looked at my dirty shirt, then at the snowy sheets. Ashamed, I put
on my coat again. I glanced up to the wall. My eyes rested on a picture
of a child praying at its mothers knee.
How long I stood there
looking at that picture, I do not know. There seemed to be something
familiar about itthe faintest shadow of memoryor perhaps the picture
was simply to me an expression of a yearning which I had never realised.
I took off my shoes,
stole softly out into the night and crawled into the strawstack.
I could never be induced
to enter that room again.
At the farmers house I
got three square meals regularly every day. And neither the hard-working
farmer nor his gentle, sweet-faced wife ever asked me any questions
about myself. They seemed to understand.
When I got my first pay
for my work, the queen on the silver pieces sang me a song of kingship
as I jingled them in my blistered hands. Here was real money that I had
worked for as other men work for it. I would get more. I would
henceforth be like other men. I would take my place with the best of
them, in time.
That night when I went to
my boarding-house I noticed that the grey-haired woman was tired.
I looked around for
something to do for her. There was no kindling-wood under the stove. I
went out to the wood-pile, split a big armful of good pine and carefully
put it in its place. The good woman gave me a smile and a thank you".
As I went out around the
corner of the kitchen I heard her say to her husband,
My! but aint that a
fine young fellow! Hes going to be somebody some day if he keeps right
I nestled up against the
stone chimney and hugged myself. Praise was a rare thing to me. Always I
saw to it that there was plenty of kindling-wood under the
Came a rainy day and I
I wandered restlessly
about, eager for the hour when the good housewife would sit down to her
I liked to listen to her
talk and to watch her nimble fingers ply the needles.
She unconsciously taught
me many a lesson when she talked.
The knitting hour came,
and as we sat together I led her to talk of her younger yearsof her
courtship and marriage.
She began with a blush
and a little laugh.
When John came
a-courting, I fooled him. I fooled him into believing I was the dearest
and sweetest girl he ever knew.
She broke off with a
blush and a bit of a laugh that she hugged to herself.
I fooled him again, she
went on, into believing I was a good housekeeper.
This time the memory made
her laugh across at me.
It was all easy enough
to do before marriage, she sighed, afterward it meant work, if I meant
to keep him fooled.
She laid the knitting in
her lap and looked through the window. What she saw did not lie outside.
I buckled to the work
with a will, she said. Often and often I was so tired, I had hard work
to smile. But when John came in from the field tired from work, or from
something gone wrong, I always met him with the best of all my smiles.
And how he would brighten up and brag on me! she murmured dreamily.
She came to herself with
another blush and a laugh, and took up her knitting again.
So, Ive been smiling my
prettiest and working my best for forty years, and John has been
bragging on me all the time. He hasnt found out yet, she finished with
a chuckle, that I fooled him forty years ago.
From all the good old
lady said I summed up this: If we would help people to better their
lives, if we would inspire them to do better work, there is no better
way than to express to them our appreciation of what they try to be and
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