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- Their Yesterdays - 2/34 -
had never felt before. And he had seen the auctioneer--a lifelong friend of his father--standing on the front porch of his boyhood home and had heard him cry the low spoken bids and answer the nodding heads of the buyers in a voice that was hoarse with something more than long speaking in the open air. And then--and then--at last had come the sharp blow of the hammer on the porch railing and from the trembling lips of the old auctioneer the word: "Sold."
It was as though that hammer had fallen on the naked heart of the boy. It was as though the auctioneer had shouted: "Dead."
And so the time had come, a week later, when he must go for a last look at the home that was his no longer. Very slowly he had walked about the yard; pausing a little before each tree and bush and plant; putting forth his hand, at times, to touch them softly as though he would make sure that they were there for he saw them dimly through a mist. The place was strangely hushed and still. The birds and bees and even the butterflies seemed to have gone somewhere far away. Very slowly he had gone up the steps to open the front door. Very slowly he had passed from room to room in the empty, silent, house. On the kitchen porch he had paused again, for a little, because he could not see the steps; then had gone on to the well, the garden, the woodhouse, the shop, the barn, and so out into the orchard that shaded the gently rising slope of the hill beyond the house. At the farther side of the orchard, on the brow of the hill, he had climbed the rail fence and had seated himself on the ground where he could look out and away over the familiar meadows and fields and pastures.
A bobo-link, swinging on a nearby bush, poured forth a tumbling torrent of silvery melody. Behind him, on the fence, a meadow lark answered with liquid music. About him on every side, in the soft sunlight, the bluebirds were flitting here and there, twittering cheerily the while over their bluebird tasks. And a woodpecker, hard at work in the orchard shade, made himself known by the din of his industry.
But the man, who did not yet quite realize that he was a man, gave no heed to these busy companions of his boyhood. To him, it was as though those men with their shovels had heaped that mound of naked, yellow, earth upon his heart. The world, for him, was as empty as the old house down there under the orchard hill. For a long time he sat very still--seeing nothing, hearing nothing, heeding nothing--conscious only of that dull, aching, loneliness--conscious only of that heavy weight of pain.
A mile or more away, beyond the fields, a moving column of smoke from a locomotive lifted itself into the sky above the tree tops and streamed back a long, dark, banner. As the column of smoke moved steadily on toward the distant horizon, the young man on the hilltop watched it listlessly. Then, as his mind outran the train to the cities that lay beyond the line of the sky, his eyes cleared, his countenance brightened, his thoughts went outward toward the great world where great men toil mightily; and the long, dark, banner of smoke that hung above the moving train became to him as a flag of battle leading swiftly toward the front. Eagerly now he watched--watched until, far away, the streaming column of smoke passed from sight around a wooded hill and faint and clear through the still air--a bugle call to his ears--came the long challenging whistle.
Then it was that he realized his manhood--knew that he was a man--and understood that manhood is not a matter of only twenty-one years. And then it was--as he sat there alone on the brow of the little hill with his boyhood years dead behind him and the years of his manhood before--that his manhood life began, even as the manhood life of every man really begins, with his Dreams.
Indeed it is true that all life really begins in dreams. Surely the lover dreams of his mistress--the maiden of her mate. Surely mothers dream of the little ones that sleep under their hearts and fathers plan for their children before they hold them in their arms. Every work of man is first conceived in the worker's soul and wrought out first in his dreams. And the wondrous world itself, with its myriad forms of life, with its grandeur, its beauty and its loveliness; the stars and the heavenly bodies of light that crown the universe; the marching of the days from the Infinite to the Infinite; the procession of the years from Eternity to Eternity; all this, indeed, is but God's good dream. And the hope of immortality--of that better life that lies beyond the horizon of our years--what a vision is that--what a wondrous dream--given us by God to inspire, to guide, to comfort, to hold us true!
With wide eyes the man looked out upon a wide world somewhat as a conquering emperor, confident in his armed strength, might from a hilltop look out over the scene of a coming battle. He did not see the grinding hardships, the desperate struggles, the disastrous losses, the pitiful suffering. The dreadful dangers did not grip his heart. The horrid fear of defeat did not strike his soul. He did not know the dragging weight of responsibility nor the dead weariness of a losing fight. He saw only the deeds of mighty valor, the glorious exhibitions of courage, of heroism, of strength. He felt only the thrill of victories, the pride of honors and renown. He knew only the inspiration of a high purpose. He heard only the call to greatness. And it was well that in his Dreams there were only these.
The splendid strength of young manhood stirred mightily in his limbs. The rich, red, blood of youth moved swiftly in his veins. His eager spirit shouted aloud in exultation of the deeds that he would do. And, surely, it was no shame to him that at this moment, when for the first time he realized his manhood, this man, in his secret heart, felt himself to be a leader of men, a conqueror of men, a savior of men. It was no shame to him that he felt the salvation of the world depending upon him.
And he was right. Upon him and upon such as he the salvation of the world _does_ depend. But it is well, indeed, that these unrecognized, dreaming, saviors of the world do not know, as they dream, that their crosses, even then, are being prepared for them. It is their salvation that they do not know. It is the salvation of the world that they do not know.
And then, as one from the deck of a ship bound for a foreign land looks back upon his native shore when the vessel puts out from the harbor, this man turned from his years that were to come to his years that were past and from dreaming of his future slipped back into the dreams of his Yesterdays. Perhaps it was the song of the bobo-link that did it; or it may have been the music of the meadow lark; or perhaps it was the bluebird's cheerful notes, or the woodpecker's loud tattoo--whatever it was that brought it about, the man dreamed again the dreams of his boyhood--dreamed them even as he dreamed the dreams of his manhood.
And there was no one to tell him that, in dreaming, his boyhood and his manhood were the same.
Once again a boy, on a drowsy summer afternoon, he lay in the shade of the orchard trees or, in the big barn, sought the mow of new mown hay, and, with half closed eyes, slipped away from the world that droned and hummed and buzzed so lazily about him into another and better world of stirring adventure and brave deeds. Once again, when the sun was hidden under heavy skies and a steady pouring rain shut him in, through the dusk of the attic he escaped from the narrow restrictions of the house, and, from his gloomy prison, went out into a fairyland of romance, of knighthood, and of chivalry. Again it was winter time and the world was buried deep under white drifts, with all its brightness and beauty of meadow and forest hidden by the cold mantle, and all its music of running brooks and singing birds hushed by an icy hand, when, snug and warm under blankets and comforters, after an evening of stories, he slipped away into the wonderland of dreams--not the irresponsible, sleeping, dreams--those do not count--but the dreams that come between waking and sleeping, wherein a boy dare do all the great deeds he ever read about and can be all the things that ever were put in books for boys to wish they were.
Oh, but those were brave dreams--those dreams of his Yesterdays! No cruel necessity of life hedged them in. No wall of the practical or possible set a limit upon them. No right or wrong decreed the way they should go. In his Yesterdays, there were fairy Godmothers to endow him with unlimited power and to grant all his wishes, even unto mountains of golden wealth and vast caverns filled with all manner of precious gems. In his Yesterdays, there were wicked giants and horrid dragons and evil beasts to kill, with always a good Genii to see that they did not harm him the while he bravely took their baleful lives. In his Yesterdays, he was a prince in gorgeous raiment; an emperor with jeweled scepter and golden crown; a knight in armor, with a sword and proudly stepping horse of war; he was a soldier leading a forlorn hope; or a general, with his plumed staff officers about him, directing the battle from a mountain top; he was a sailor cast away on a desert island; or a captain commanding his ship in a storm or, clinging to the shrouds in a smother of battle flame and smoke, shouting his orders through a trumpet to his gallant crew; he was a pirate; a robber chief; a red Indian; a hunter; a scout of the plains--he could be anything, in those dreams of his Yesterdays, anything.
So, even as the man, the boy had dreamed. But the man did not think of it in that way--the dreams of his _manhood_ were too real.
Then in his Yesterdays would come, also, the putting of his dreams into action, for the play of children, even as the works of men, are only dreams in action after all. The quiet orchard became a vast and pathless forest wherein lurked wild beasts and savage men ready to pounce upon the daring hunter; or, perhaps, it was an enchanted wood with lords and ladies imprisoned in the trees while in the carriage house--which was not a carriage house at all but a great castle--a cruel giant held captive their beautiful princess. The haymow was a robbers' cave wherein great wealth of booty was stored; the garden, a desert island on which lived the poor castaway. And many a long summer hour the bold captain clung to the rigging of his favorite apple tree ship and gazed out over the waving meadow sea, or the general of the army, on his rail fence war horse, directed the battle from the hilltop or led the desperate charge.
But rarely, in his Yesterdays, could the boy put his dreams into successful action alone. Alone he could dream but to realize his dreams, he needs must have the help of another. And so _she_ came to take her place in his life, to help him play out his dreams--the little girl who lived next door.
Who was she? Why, she was the beautiful princess held captive by the giant in his carriage house castle until rescued by the brave prince who came to her through the enchanted wood. She was the crew of the apple tree ship; the robber band; the army following her general in his victorious charge; and the relief expedition that found the castaway on his desert island. Sometimes she was even a cannibal chief, or a monster dragon, or a cruel wild beast. And always--though the boy did not know--she was a good fairy weaving many spells for his happiness.
The man remembered well enough the first time that he met her. A new family was moving into the house that stood just below the garden and,
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