Orison was only seven years old when his father died. Then began his grim struggle with fate — his training for the part he was to play in life.
Until then, he had done his little best, to lighten his father's labors, the boy was never overtaxed, while he always had his father's love and companionship, and that of his sisters. They had no luxuries, but they had a real home, sufficient clothing, and plenty of wholesome food. Now, he was to learn a new and hard lesson.
After his father's funeral there was a brief interval. The three orphans, Mary, Orison and Rose, were sent to the home of their grandmother, a little log house in an out-of-the-way corner of New Hampshire, even more remote from the world than Thornton-Gore.
In this lonely place the boy loved to listen at night to the barking of wild foxes, as they came out in the moonlight into the open clearing near the house. He used to enjoy, too, the cakes which his grandmother baked before the open chimney fire, and the onions and potatoes roasted in the ashes. How delicious they were to a hungry boy!
Later he gave this pathetic and amusing picture of his grandmother's difficulties when she tried to cook with her first cooking stove:
"I can well remember seeing her, on more than one occasion, cry like a child when she burned the food or her fingers in baking corn bread, pies, or other things, in what she always scornfully referred to as 'that newfangled device.'
"She was old, and it was very hard for her to adjust herself to innovations of any kind. Like all other housewives in those days, she made her own sap, dipped her own candles, and did her own spinning, weaving and dyeing. In fact, in my childhood and youth what were then called 'boughten things' were practically unknown. It was a rare thing for us to see what are now collectively called 'groceries,' or anything else that came from a store."
"Most of the things used by a typical New England family — clothing, food, rugs, carpets, blankets, and so on — were manufactured at home. I never saw a factory-made broom until I was an adult. Boys used to be sent into the woods to get hemlock boughs for brooms. Today all this is reversed, and even the 'pies that mother used to make' can now be bought at 'the shop around the corner.'"
The interlude at the old grandmother's home was all too short, for she was poor and could not keep the children. The man-child, at least, must work to live. Up to that time Orison had not known that there are such things in the world as cruelty and injustice. He was to learn through bitter experience what they were. He was "bound out" by his guardian successively in five different families, throughout the backwoods of New Hampshire. This is the first of his recollections about his young experience among strangers:
"When I was taken to my new home in Woodstock, everything seemed cold and strange. I looked distrustfully at the new faces, into the eyes which so critically scanned me. The family consisted of the father and mother and several children, all girls, and I wondered how they would treat me. I didn't have long to wait; for, although they were quite well-to-do people, they did not consider me too young to be set to work for the benefit of the family.
"Although I was so small that I had to stand on a box to enable me to reach up to the wood on the saw horse, they put me to sawing wood, taking care of the barn, and doing chores.
The girls started to 'boss' me, which I resented, but very soon found that I would have to succumb, for their parents considered me an 'outsider', and thereafter I was obliged to mind whatever the daughters said. They were allowed to abuse me, and I was whipped by the father and mother upon the slightest provocation.
"Joy, beauty, exuberance, enthusiasm, buoyancy, belong to childhood."
I remember sometimes being whipped on our way to church on Sunday, and even being called down from a load of hay, which I was helping to make, whipped and then sent back "The father was a strict man, not particularly in love with his wife, and on occasion the pair would get to quarreling so violently as to which one of them should whip me, that I would have a respite from my almost daily thrashing. The disputing would grow in intensity until they would be exhausted, so to speak, before they got to my case, and then I would escape."
Even amid the hardships of his childhood, the boy developed that sense of humor which is the saving grace of life, a quality which in after years helped him to ease the rough jolts of life and relieved the pain of many embarrassing situations. No matter how he was kicked or smacked or abused, if there were a humorous side to a situation, he saw and enjoyed it, whether the joke was at his own or some one's else expense.
Young Marden's sense of humor was one of the things that saved him from any tinge of that bitterness or cynicism which harsh or unjust treatment, especially in childhood, often develops even in those with naturally sweet dispositions.
It was with this family that he tasted his first real bitterness in childhood, engendered by the pangs of homesickness and lack of the affection he so greatly craved. Perhaps he never again felt so lonely and homesick as when, a few days before his first Christmas among strangers, he overheard the father and mother talking over the presents — dolls, toys, and other things, — they were planning to get for their children. He was incidentally referred to as the "hired boy." But, with some faint prompting of maternal sympathy, the mother said that being so young, he would probably hang up his stocking, and that they should probably give him something.
So on Christmas Eve he was allowed to hang his stocking with the other children. And he says, "I lay awake a good part of the night thinking what nice things Santa Claus would bring me, and what I would do with them. Imagine, then, my surprise and chagrin on Christmas morning to find nothing in my stocking but a cheap stick of candy!
When I compared it with the things the other children were eager to show me, it was more than I could bear. Memory brought before me a picture of the previous Christmas, the last one that father was with us, and the contrast between that and this was so bitter that I could not suppress my tears. Although father was then so ill that he was unable to go out of the house, he made, with his own hands, a little suit of clothes for me, besides giving me other nice things.
Thinking of all this I felt so grieved and hurt over my stick of candy that I could not eat it."
The little suit of clothes made by his father's loving hands must have been worn out by this time, for the boy suffered bitterly from cold that first winter away from home. The New England winters are cruel, and he was so scantily clad that on one occasion he came near freezing to death.
The pupils at the little school which he was allowed to attend during the winter months discovered one day that his fingers and ears were frozen, and promptly rolled him in the snow to restore his circulation.
There was little time in the new life for play or recreation of any sort, for his taskmasters were apparently determined to get the most they could out of him. "I had to work very hard," he says, "and soon I forgot what it was like to be a child with other children."
If one were to judge by externals alone, it might appear that some malign influence was at work to crush out of the heart of this child all the natural joy and exuberance of young life; that his experiences would embitter him, and make him a cynic, a pessimist, — a doubtor who would see no beauty or joy in life, no virtue or good in his fellow-men. Yet, in that mysterious way in which, as St. Paul tells us, "all things work together for good to them that love God," it was out of the very bitterness of his own experience that he was able to learn the glorious secret of real happiness.
It was from the unsatisfied longings, the harsh repressions, the very joylessness of his own childhood, the utter starvation of body and soul, of his whole nature, — that he learned to know, as few men know, the nature and the needs of the child.
Long before he had children of his own, he had learned to understand and to love all children, to voice their desires and needs, as he does in many of his editorials and magazine articles, and especially in his book, "The Joys of Living," in which he says:
"The first duty we owe a child is to teach him to fling out his inborn joy and gladness with the same freedom and abandon as the bobolink does when it makes the meadow joyous with its song.
"Suppression of the fun-loving nature of a child means the suppression of its mental and moral faculties. Joy will go out of the heart of a child after a while, if he is constantly suppressed. Mothers who are constantly cautioning their little ones not to do this or not to do that, telling them not to laugh or make a noise, until they lose their naturalness and become little old men and women, do not realize the harm they are doing.
"Joy, beauty, exuberance, enthusiasm, buoyancy, belong to childhood. A sad, worrying child, a child who has no childhood, is a disgrace to civilization.
"Let the children give vent to all that is joyous and happy in their natures, and they will blossom out into helpful men and women instead of sedate, sad, melancholy ones. Spontaneity, bouyancy and bubbling over of animal spirits are worth everything in one's education.
"Children who are encouraged in the expression of their play-instinct will make better business men, better professional men, — better men and better women in any walk of life. They will succeed farther and have a better influence than those who are repressed."
The boy had been but a short time in the Glover family, where he was first bound out, when he had an experience which would have tested the courage and endurance of a grown man. It was one of the high spots in the monotonous round of his daily routine, and began the development of that resourcefulness which, in after years, helped him through many grave situations.
He was sent by Mr. Glover to the home of Mr. Tucker, another farmer who lived some miles away, on an errand which must have been of some importance. It seems strange that it should have been entrusted to a mere child, and that he should have been sent alone and afoot on a journey that was full of peril.
The Tucker home lay on the opposite side of Welsh Mountain. Two routes led to it, one around a bridle path in the forest, which was used only in winter time for logging purposes; the other, through the woods and over the mountain top.
The boy's instructions were to take the latter route; to stay for the night at Tucker's and to return home the next morning. He had heard many stories of the bears, wildcats and wolves that still haunted that wild region, and it is small wonder that at his age he was scared at the prospect that lay before him. What if he should lose his way and have to remain all night in the forest! What if he should be attacked by a bear or a wolf, with no one to help, and no means of defending himself!
These were terrifying thoughts that chilled his blood, but he dared not give utterance to them, or make any protest. He was silently reminded by thought of the many welts and black marks on his body that it was useless to rebel against doing anything he was told to do.
After the mid-day dinner, without any path or blazed trail to guide him, the young messenger set out on his difficult errand. Trying to bear in mind Mr. Glover's instructions — to follow the East Branch into the forest until he came to Loon Pond, where he could see the top of the mountain peak; then to bear to the left till he got into the valley beyond, where he would see the clearing — he whistled to keep up his courage as he went on his lonely way.
While the sun was still high in the heavens he trudged bravely on, clambering over rocks and huge fallen trees, still keeping near enough to the East Branch to hear the water leaping down over the rocks, until he reached Loon Pond. At this point Orison Marden was five miles from the nearest house.
The screeching of the loons as they flew across the lake was the only sound that broke the stillness. It but accentuated the loneliness of the forest, and he longed for the sound of a human voice. His foot was bleeding from a deep gash, caused by stepping on a sharp knot as he was climbing over a fallen tree. He stopped to tear a strip of cloth from his little blue jacket, with which he bound up the wound as best he could, and limped on.
Cheered by the fact that he could see the top of the mountain from Loon Pond, as Mr. Glover had described, he felt reassured and started up the mountain side with renewed courage.
"All things work together for good to them that love God."
- St. Paul
Suddenly a crackling in the bushes and underbrush a little way ahead of him set his heart madly thumping against his side. But he kept pushing on, when again a noise from something moving, caused him to look up. At this point a fallen tree had been caught in the fork of another tree, and hung balanced some twenty feet in the air. There on a transverse limb crouched a wildcat, its fierce eyes glaring into the upturned face of the boy!
For an instant he stood terror-bound. Then, taking to his heels, he fled as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Dodging behind trees and springing over rocks, intent only on putting as much distance as possible between himself and the crouching creature in the tree, he ran on and on. Forced to halt a moment to get his breath, he discovered with dismay that he could no longer see the top of the mountain which was to guide him in the right direction.
The forest here was dense, the branches of the great spruce and hemlock trees being so closely interwoven that he could scarcely see through them. He kept on up the side of the mountain, however, believing that he was moving in the direction of the Tucker home. But he was growing footsore and weary. He felt as if he had already walked twenty miles.
The sun had dropped below the horizon. The shadows were gathering. Night was coming on, and he had not even sighted the clearing that was his objective. What should he do if he were attacked by a bear or a wolf? He had a small jackknife and a stout stick, but would it be possible to beat off a bear with these?
It grew darker and darker. It was night, and he began to realize that he had lost his way.
Terrible thought! Must he stay in the forest all night? It was too dark to go on, for he could not tell whether he was moving in the direction of the Tucker home or away from it. He climbed a tree to see if he could get a glimpse of the longed-for clearing, but in vain.
What should he do? — remain in the tree or lie down on the ground? If he remained in the tree, he might go to sleep, and, perhaps fall down and get killed! If he lay on the ground wild animals might find and devour him!
In his terrible dilemma, the Yankee boy, now used to taking care of himself, remembered hearing that wild animals are afraid of fire and will not come near it. Fortunately, he had some matches in his pocket. He clambered down out of the tree, gathered what dead wood and dry branches he could find, and started a fire.
In the early afternoon as he tramped through the woods he had filled his pockets with beechnuts. He was hungry now, and, after roasting the nuts in the fire, he ate them with great relish. They made an excellent supper.
His hunger satisfied, he began to feel sleepy, and set about making himself a bed of leaves and hemlock branches. The moment he lay down, in spite of his fears, he went to sleep. But he had terrifying dreams. He thought that he was being carried away by a bear into a cave, where there were other bears. They were about to tear him to pieces when he sprang up in terror, to find himself in utter darkness. His fire had died out. The bears he had seen in his dream might be upon him at any moment.
Suddenly, a shrill cry that was almost human pierced the stillness. The boy was petrified with fear. Again the cry was repeated. It came from a tree near by. Then he recognized it. It was only a screech-owl. But how hideous it sounded to one lost in the forest in the dead of night!
He had but three matches left in his pocket. With trembling hand he tried to light one to start his fire again, but the head broke off; the brimstone ignited, sputtered, and burned out before it touched the dry leaves. Now there were only two left. A sharp noise like that of a huge branch breaking under a heavy weight made his hair stand on end. Then came more crackling of branches and stealthy sounds like the steps of some wild animal going through the shrubbery. He must get a light.
Taking his second precious match from his pocket, he drew it across his trousers, but his hand shook so that again the match missed fire. Now there was but one standing between him and a terrible danger. He could feel his heart bound into his throat as he tried his last match. Fortunately it lighted at once, and in a few seconds he had his fire going again.
By this time the sounds that had alarmed him had died away, and the silence was so intense he felt that he could hear it. He had no idea how long he had been asleep or what time it was.
He was conscious of nothing but the awful darkness and silence everywhere beyond the circle of his fire. That should not be allowed to go out again. He must gather more fuel and, at all costs, keep it going until daylight.
He started to get a new supply, when again came that terrifying crackling noise of dry leaves and sticks, as if some heavy animal were prowling around. He peered into the darkness in the direction from which the sound came, but could see nothing.
Then, all at once, two great fierce eyes stood out of the gloom. There was no form visible — only the awful eyes glaring at him out of the darkness.
Too frightened to move, he stood rooted to the spot, until the eyes began to move toward him. There was no time to lose. The animal was slowly advancing. Soon its head was visible, then its body took form, — a large black bear.
Thoughts tumbled madly through his brain. What should he do? run away, or climb a tree? If he stayed where he was he would surely be killed. Then the instinct of self-preservation rushed to his aid.
Hardly knowing what he did, Orison turned to the fire, and, snatching from it two blazing knots, one in each hand, ran toward the bear, yelling with all his might and brandishing his flaming torches in its face. The animal stood up on its hind legs, as straight as a man, glared at him and growled. But the boy kept yelling and whirling the burning brands until the bear dropped again on all fours and started to run.
Overjoyed at his success, after chasing his enemy as far as he dared go, the boy returned to the fire, but not to sleep, for the adventures of the night were not yet at an end. His fire was burning low again, and he could not run the risk of going too far away from it to get fresh fuel. Wolves as well as wildcats and bears were prowling around and liable to appear at any moment. His only refuge was to climb a tree.
No sooner was he seated high up in the branches of a tall hemlock than a great catamount came creeping stealthily along on top of a log that lay near the smoldering fire. Jumping off the end of the log, it came to the fire and began sniffing the ground, as a dog does when tracking some animal. Then, advancing to the tree in which the boy was sitting, it raised itself on its paws and began to smell of the bark.
The fugitive, aloft in the branches, held his breath lest he should be discovered. Would the catamount climb the tree? Should he try to go up higher? No; the beast dropped to the ground and went once more toward the fire; then returned to the tree. In an agony of terror the boy held himself in his seat by gripping the branches with hands and feet, fearing to move a muscle lest he should be discovered.
After what seemed an eternity, though but a few moments, the catamount went away. The night wore slowly on. It seemed to the boy it would never end. Fear kept him awake and he dared not come down from the tree.
At last the first faint tints of dawn began to streak the eastern sky, and surely never before was a boy so glad to see the morning light. Never did he forget the terrors and the sufferings of that awful night. Never did he feel such joy as when, battered and bruised, with bleeding feet and torn clothes, he finally found his way to the home of Farmer Tucker.
» Chapter Three - Childhood Memories
» Chapter Five - Life In A New England Parsonage
» Chapter Six - The Solace Of Nature
» Chapter Seven - The Open Road
"The aim of every man should be to secure the highest and most harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent whole."