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Chapter I--How it Began
 I think it is strange how the scenes surrounding big events stay in your memory. And sometimes with years they become more clear than the happening which impressed them. I know this, because I remember a big four-posted bed, and a lot of people around it--crying. And then I remember someone lifting me up to kiss the woman who was on the bed, but I do not remember how she looked, and she was my mother. She died at that time, and now I only recall the crying people and the big four-posted bed, and thinking it funny that a bed should wear petticoats. It had a valance on it, you see, and I evidently had not noticed it before. Just in that same way I remember coming to live with Uncle Frank Randolph, who is my mother’s brother. And all I remember about that is whiskers (they were miles long, I was sure!) and the fact that it was raining. And now--somehow--when I think of home and saying good-bye to it, all I can see is swirling yellow leaves and the dust and peanut shells and bags that were flying in the wind around the station.
But I must start this story properly. It really all began the day I rode a bicycle down the Court-house steps on a bet. At that time I saw nothing wrong in doing this, and to be frank I was quite proud that I could do it, for there are fifteen of those steps, and they’re quite steep. After I did it I went over to the drug store with Willy Jepson and had a soda, and then we rode down to the ball field, and I pitched nine innings for the Red Socks, after which I thought I’d go home. I usually went home, when I had a funny hollow feel under my belt. And Uncle Frank didn’t mind my not being on time for meals, so it didn’t matter. But when I got in that night I knew something had happened.
In the first place, Uncle Frank wasn’t reading any of his bug books (Uncle Frank is very famous for his bug knowledge, as you probably know--some people even calling him the “Second Fabre”), nor did he have on two pairs of glasses. In fact, he was acting entirely unnatural and quite as people of his age do when they are preparing to be disagreeable.
“Ho hum! Where have you been?” he asked, as I sat down at the table.
“Down at the flats,” I answered. “Pitched nine innings against Corkey McGowan’s Gang, and we licked ’em.” And then, feeling some pride, I reached for the spiced peaches and chocolate cake and began to satisfy my craving for food.
“Don’t you”--he began, hesitated, fumbled for words, and then went on--“ah--like the--ah--gentler pursuit of maidens?”
I said I didn’t.
“Ho hum!” he said. And he wagged his head several times, which means he is perplexed.
“How old are you?” he asked next.
I told him I was sixteen (I do every two or three days), and then I asked him to pass the strawberry preserve, because I found that I was still hungry. He did, and then he asked me whether I had eaten any meat. I had always depended upon his absent-mindedness, and I was surprised to see him so obviously upset and, truth to be told, also a little annoyed; for I knew that my life would be one series of explanations, if he began to notice.
I told him that I hadn’t felt the need for anything but chocolate cake and preserves, but he wagged his head again and then he drew forth a letter, and I knew by the shade and the address which was engraved on the envelope that it was from Aunt Penelope Randolph James, who lives in New York.
“Penelope,” said Uncle Frank, “intimated as much--where is it?--ho hum--oh, here we are,” and then he read aloud this:
“?‘With your erratic habits, my dear, she is probably growing up like a young Indian, and I dare say she eats whatever she pleases, and does whatever she likes.’?”
I said: “Why shouldn’t I?” And then, “Will you please pass the cake?” for I realized that Uncle Frank was absorbed. He passed it to me as he turned the page, and went on with: “?‘Obviously, she must have two or three years in a good school, and one here, after her coming out. I think she will be happy with Evelyn and Amy, and we will love having her. I want to know her, to have a few years of her, and a chance to do whatsoever I can--because of Nelly.’?”
And after that Uncle Frank stooped and stared down at the letter. “Nelly” was the name of my mother, and everyone who knew her loved her a great deal; so much, in fact, that they can’t speak of her easily. I always wish, and so much, that it was hard for me to speak of her. But, as I said before, I can only remember the big four-posted bed and the crying people. And I never did think that was quite fair, for as I look on girls with mothers I realize I have missed a great deal. I do think that I at least might have been allowed to have a few years of mine. But--that attitude doesn’t help me. In this world you have to make up your mind to lots that isn’t happy. For, if it IS, all your complaints won’t change it.
But--to get on. I was not impressed with my aunt’s letter. I knew I wouldn’t have a good time with my cousin Evelyn, because I wear her old clothes sometimes, and by their architecture I realize that our tastes are not in common. They are very flossy. Usually she chooses the kind of colour that soils when you shin up a tree, and they have lots of buttons on them that sort of catch when you take any mild exercise, such as sliding down a barn roof on your stomach (there are some ideal barns for that in this section), and once, when I went down the spouting from the Jepsons’ third floor (we were playing hide-and-seek), I got hung up by a button three feet from the ground and had to scream for someone to loosen me, and was consequently “It;” beside which I might have been killed if it had been higher and the button had not held. This is all mixed, but English is not my strong point. I like gym. work best of any study, and do best in it.
Then, beside that, I have a photograph of Evelyn, and I realized from it that we wouldn’t mean much to one another; also I have never got along very well with girls.
So I said: “But I feel that my education is finished.”
My uncle didn’t think so, and he tried not to smile, which I think is a very impolite habit of older people. I’d rather they would really smile at you any time.
I went on. I said, and heatedly, I must admit: “I can say the multiplication table up to the twelves, and what more can you ask?” And just to prove it I did, up to “twelve times twelve is one hundred and fifty-nine;” but even then he didn’t look convinced.
“There are other things,” he said. I asked what, but he wasn’t concrete.
“I love life as it is,” I said, and none too steadily. I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Queensburg and Virginia! But uncle had got up and was puttering around near the bay window, where a bookcase stands, and so I knew he didn’t hear me. I tried once more to attract his attention, but he was looking at a lot of coloured plates of the antenn? of some sort of rare beetle, and I had to give up. But after I had eaten another piece of cake and a little more preserve, I got up. I picked up the dishes and went to the kitchen with them, for I always clear the table for Mrs. Bradly, who is Uncle Frank’s housekeeper.
She was washing lettuce and splattering a good deal of water.
“Bradly-dear,” I said, “do you know about this letter?”
“Set,” she said, and waved toward a stool which stood before the back window. I settled on it and looked out in the garden, which is a shabby but dear place. The hollyhocks were beginning to sag, I remember, and sprawled every way; and the zinnias positively blazed colour in the first taupe shadows of the dusk. . . . It was pretty, and it made you feel still, as if you wanted to close your eyes halfway and smile just a little; but it made you feel sad. . . . I don’t understand that feeling, but sometimes I have it. . . . Mrs. Bradly never had it, for I asked her. But I think my mother would have understood it. . . . Pretty things make it, and some kinds of music, and I don’t know whether anything else does or not, but those are the only things that have made me have it. . . . I don’t imagine uncle ever felt it. One day I asked him.
“Uncle Frank,” I said, “do you ever feel sort of sad, and awfully happy, when it’s just hazy, soft-dark outdoors and the crickets squeak and everything seems cosy and yet sort of lonesome, and you feel sort of contented and yet--miserable, the way you do after you’ve eaten a big Thanksgiving dinner----”
“Crickets?” he said, looking over his glasses. “Dinner? . . . Ho hum!” And then he went and got some engravings that he bought in France, of some sort of cricket who was eating her husband! They do it, quite a lot of them. And although that does seem cruel, they are very bright and intelligent in more ways than just that. Their husbands weren’t useful and so they ate them, which is more than some women do. This is mixed, but as I said, gym. work is where I star.
But of course I knew from that that he had never felt that poetic longing, or whatever it is, that I felt that night when Mrs. Bradly was washing lettuce and I asked her about the letter.
“High time,” she said, after I spoke, “that you was sent off! I can’t do a thing with yuh! . . . Playin’ ball, a great girl like you!”
“Oh, Bradly-dear!” I said. I hated displeasing her. But she did not soften.
“Well, I’ll stop!” I said, after a deep drawn breath. I sighed, because playing ball means a great deal in my life.
Bradly-dear sniffed and flopped the lettuce terribly.
“I didn’t play at Parsons,” I went on. She didn’t reply.
“I wanted to frightfully,” I said. “It is quite an honour, Bradly-dear, to pitch on a business men’s team. And they had to let Mr. Horner do it, and he has a glass eye and let three men sneak in to third, because he couldn’t see out of the glass one.”
I had wanted to play ball in Parsons. It is a town some ten miles’ distance where all the trains stop. They claim that it has ten thousand inhabitants, which, of course, makes it a city. . . . The reason I didn’t play was because the minister, Mr. Diggs, called and asked uncle not to let me. I don’t know why religious people are so often disagreeable. Bradly-dear spoke again, and witheringly.
“Fine life for the daughter of Nelly Randolph,” she said, “to set here and rot! . . . The place is all right for your uncle--laws, he could mash his bugs and put ’em on paper anywhere--but for a girl----” Again she sniffed.
“But I love it,” I protested. “This sort of a life is all I want----”
“Your mother,” she went on, “spoke French and was a lady. She could enter a room and talk high-falutin and entertain anybody. She could wave a fan--and you”--she faced me and waved the lettuce quite as if that were an ostrich plumed fan and she a court lady--“and you,” she repeated, “you can wave a baseball bat, but enter a room? Why, you slide your feet under every rug that isn’t glued down, and you tangle up in all the cheers, and you say ‘Hello’ when you should say ‘Howdy,’ and--well, it ain’t no ways fittin’ or proper that you should stay here and act like you was training for to be Ringling’s star performer!”
I didn’t reply. There wasn’t anything to say. For all that Bradly-dear had said was true. I am very awkward--but--I like being so.
“Your mother,” she said, slowly and solemnly, “would ‘a’ wanted you to be learned right and proper manners----”
I stood up.
“All right, Bradly-dear,” I said, “if you really think she would--and Uncle Frank thinks I should----” And then I stopped speaking. I had never felt so miserable.
I went out in the garden, and Willy Jepson yelled over from the kitchen roof where he was mending a fish line.
“Come over and play catch,” he howled.
“Don’t believe I can,” I said, sort of stiffly, I guess.
“Why not?” he yelled.
“I’m not going to tell the whole town!” I answered, and after that he slid down, by way of a grape arbour, and came over to stand near the fence.
“Why not?” he repeated.
“My last game of ball is played,” I said. “It seems--I am too old for it, or something. They--they don’t want me to. At least not in big games, and I couldn’t indulge as an amateur.”
“My gosh,” he said, “that’s fierce!”
I nodded. I almost never cry--in fact, I don’t cry any oftener than Willy Jepson does, but I was near it then, so I looked down at the hedge and broke twigs.
“Why,” he went on, “it’s fierce! You have the making of a big leaguer--that is, if you’d been a man--I say, it’s fierce. Your drop curves----” He paused, and that pause meant a lot.
“Just because you’re a girl?” he asked. I admitted it. I had to.
“That’s fierce!” he said again. His kindness helped me a great deal. And his commendation was not a light thing, for Willy does the best spit balls in our county. They are really dreams of poetic beauty and almost never fail him. I looked up and said: “Thank you.”
And again he said: “My gosh, Nat, that’s fierce!” And I did feel cheered up. Then I heard uncle’s voice--calling me--and I went in. I found him mounting a black beetle.
“No more----” he began, and then looked perplexed. He scratched his head and dislocated one pair of his glasses, and I supplied, “ball.”
“Why, yes,” he said, “that was it.” And then: “You are to go to your aunt’s the last of this month. . . . Mrs. Bradly thinks she can get your clothes ready by that time. . . . We will miss you, my child. . . . Let me see. . . . Ho hum! Long feelers and hard back--page nine hundred and twenty-seven.” I left him to his bugs.
I went to the kitchen, but I only stood in the door for a moment, and then I backed away, for Mrs. Bradly was crying--awfully hard--her face buried in the roller towel. And I knew it was because I was going away. . . . I felt that way too, but I never cry, so I went up to my room and got out my fishing tackle and tried to make a fly for a shallow, shady stream out of some gray and green silk and a grasshopper wing. . . . But it didn’t divert me much. . . . I didn’t think I could exist very long in real civilization. I knew I didn’t want to. All the loveliness that I felt earlier in the evening was gone, and all that was left was an ache, a dull, sodden, gray, growing-larger-all-the-time ache. . . . You see, I cared awfully for outdoors and the sports that keep you there. They were all I really knew of life. . . . And my New York relatives live in an apartment.
“I will be bored,” I thought, “and miserably, horribly unhappy!” But--whatever else I was--I was not bored! Oh, my soul, no! Not for one instant! Sometimes it was almost ghastly, that mystery which gripped and held us all, and even now I tremble to think of phases of it; but it gave more in the end than it took, which is the curious way of much pain and discomfort. When I think that--but I mustn’t begin now. For that part comes much later.

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