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- Samuel the Seeker - 1/45 -
SAMUEL THE SEEKER
BY Upton Sinclair
"Samuel," said old Ephraim, "Seek, and ye shall find."
He had written these words upon the little picture of Samuel's mother, which hung in that corner of the old attic which served as the boy's bedroom; and so Samuel grew up with the knowledge that he, too, was one of the Seekers. Just what he was to seek, and just how he was to seek it, were matters of uncertainty--they were part of the search. Old Ephraim could not tell him very much about it, for the Seekers had moved away to the West before he had come to the farm; and Samuel's mother had died very young, before her husband had a chance to learn more than the rudiments of her faith. So all that Samuel knew was that the Seekers were men and women of fervor, who had broken with the churches because they would not believe what was taught--holding that it was every man's duty to read the Word of God for himself and to follow where it led him.
Thus the boy learned to think of life, not as something settled, but as a place for adventure. One must seek and seek; and in the end the way of truth would be revealed to him. He could see this zeal in his mother's face, beautiful and delicate, even in the crude picture; and Samuel did not know that the picture was crude, and wove his dreams about it. Sometimes at twilight old Ephraim would talk about her, and the tears would steal down his cheeks. The one year that he had known her had sufficed to change the course of his life; and he had been a man past middle life, too, a widower with two children. He had come into the country as the foreman of a lumber camp back on the mountain.
Samuel had always thought of his father as an old man; Ephraim had been hurt by a vicious horse, and had aged rapidly after that. He had given up lumbering; it had not taken long to clear out that part of the mountains. Now the hills were swept bare, and the population had found a new way of living.
Samuel's childhood life had been grim and stern. The winter fell early upon the mountain wilderness; the lake would freeze over, and the roads block up with snow, and after that they would live upon what they had raised in the summer, with what Dan and Adam--Samuel's half- brothers--might bring in from the chase. But now all this was changed and forgotten; for there was a hotel at the end of the lake, and money was free in the country. It was no longer worth while to reap the hay from the mountain meadows; it was better to move the family into the attic, and "take boarders." Some of the neighbors even turned their old corncribs into sleeping shacks, and advertised in the city papers, and were soon blossoming forth in white paint and new buildings, and were on the way to having "hotels" of their own.
Old Ephraim lacked the cunning for that kind of success. He was lame and slow, tending toward stoutness, and having a film over one eye; and Samuel knew that the boarders made fun of him, even while they devoured his food and took advantage of him. This was the first bitterness of Samuel's life; for he knew that within old Ephraim's bosom was the heart of a king. Once the boy had heard him in the room beneath his attic, talking with one of the boarders, a widow with a little daughter of whom the old man was fond. "I've had a feeling, ma'am," he was saying, "that somehow you might be in trouble. And I wanted to say that if you can't spare this money, I would rather you kept it; for I don't need it now, and you can send it to me when things are better with you." That was Ephraim Prescott's way with his boarders; and so he did not grow in riches as fast as he grew in soul.
Ephraim's wife had taught him to read the Bible. He read it every night, and on Sundays also; and if what he was reading was sublime poetry, and a part of the world's best literature, the old man did not know it. He took it all as having actual relationship to such matters as trading horses and feeding boarders. And he taught Samuel to take it that way also; and as the boy grew up there took root within him a great dismay and perplexity, that these moral truths which he read in the Book seemed to count for so little in the world about him.
Besides the Bible and his mother, Ephraim taught his son one other great thing; that was America. America was Samuel's country, the land where his fathers had died. It was a land set apart from all others, for the working out of a high and wonderful destiny. It was the land of Liberty. For this whole armies of heroic men had poured out their heart's blood; and their dream was embodied in institutions which were almost as sacred as the Book itself. Samuel learned hymns which dealt with these things, and he heard great speeches about them; every Fourth of July that he could remember he had driven out to the courthouse to hear one, and he was never in the least ashamed when the tears came into his eyes.
He had seen tears even in the summer boarders' eyes; once or twice when on a quiet evening it chanced that the old man unlocked the secret chambers of his soul. For Ephraim Prescott had been through the War. He had marched with the Seventeenth Pennsylvania from Bull Run to Cold Harbor, where he had been three times wounded; and his memory was a storehouse of mighty deeds and thrilling images. Heroic figures strode through it; there were marches and weary sieges, prison and sickness and despair; there were moments of horror and of glory, visions of blood and anguish, of flame and cannon smoke; there were battle flags, torn by shot and shell, and names of precious memory, which stirred the deep places of the soul. These men had given their lives for Freedom; they had lain down to make a pathway before her-- they had filled up a bloody chasm so that she might pass upon her way. And that was the heritage they handed to their children, to guard and cherish. That was what it meant to be an American; that one must hold himself in readiness to go forth as they had done, and dare and suffer whatever the fates might send.
Such were the things out of which Samuel's life was made; besides these he had only the farm, with its daily tasks, and the pageant of Nature in the wilderness--of day and night, and of winter and summer upon the mountains. The books were few. There was one ragged volume which Samuel knew nearly by heart, which told the adventures of a castaway upon a desert island, and how, step by step, he solved his problem; Samuel learned from that to think of life as made by honest labor, and to find a thrill of romance in the making of useful things. And then there was the story of Christian, and of his pilgrimage; the very book for a Seeker--with visions of glory not too definite, leaving danger of premature success.
And then, much later, some one left at the place a volume of the "Farm Rhymes" of James Whitcomb Riley; and before Samuel's eyes there opened a new vision of life. He had been happy; but now suddenly he realized it. He had loved the blue sky above him, and the deep woods and the sparkling lake; but now he had words to tell about them--and the common tasks of his life were transfigured with the glory of song. So one might milk the cow with stirrings of wonder, and mow in the meadows to the rhythm of "Knee-deep in June."
From which you may divine that Samuel was what is called an Enthusiast. He was disposed to take rosy views of things, and to believe what he was told--especially if it was something beautiful and appealing. He was given to having ideals and to accepting theories. He would be stirred by some broad new principle; and he would set to work to apply it with fervor. But you are not to conclude from this that Samuel was a fool. On the contrary, when things went wrong he knew it; and according to his religion, he sought the reason, and he sought persistently, and with all his might. If all men would do as much, the world might soon be quite a different place.
Such was Samuel's life until he was seventeen, and then a sad experience came to the family.
It was because of the city people. They brought prosperity to the country, everyone said, but old Ephraim regretted their coming, none the less. They broke down the old standards, and put an end to the old ways of life. What was the use of grubbing up stumps in a pasture lot, when one could sell minnows for a penny apiece? So all the men became "guides" and camp servants, and the girls became waitresses. They wore more stylish clothes and were livelier of speech; but they were also more greedy and less independent. They had learned to take tips, for instance; and more than one of the girls went away to the city to nameless and terrible destinies.
These summer boarders all had money. Young and old, it flowed from them in a continuous stream. They did not have to plow and reap--they bought what they wanted; and they spent their time at play--with sailboats and fishing tackle, bicycles and automobiles, and what not. How all this money came to be was a thing difficult to imagine; but it came from the city--from the great Metropolis, to which one's thoughts turned with ever livelier interest.
Then, one August, came a man who opened the gates of knowledge a little. Manning was his name--Percival Manning, junior partner in the firm of Manning & Isaacson, Bankers and Brokers--with an address which had caused the Prescott family to start and stare with awe. It was Wall Street!
Mr. Percival Manning was round and stout, and wore striped shirts, and trousers which were like a knife blade in front; also, he fairly radiated prosperity. His talk was all of financial wizardry by which fortunes were made overnight. The firm of Manning & Isaacson was one of the oldest and most prosperous in the street, so he said; and its junior partner was in the confidence of some of the greatest powers in the financial affairs of the country. And, alas! for the Prescott family, which did not read the magazines and had never even heard of a "bucket-shop"!
Adam, the oldest brother, took Mr. Manning back to Indian Pond on a fishing trip; and Samuel went along to help with the carries. And all the way the talk was of the wonders of city life. Samuel learned that his home was a God-forsaken place in winter--something which had never been hinted at in any theological book which he had read. Manning wondered that Adam didn't get out to some place where a man had a chance. Then he threw away a half-smoked cigar and talked about the theaters and the music halls; and after that he came back to the inexhaustible topic of Wall Street.
He had had interesting news from the office that day; there was a big deal about to be consummated--the Glass Bottle Trust was ready for
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