I WAS born in Ireland, fifty-six years ago. Antrim, the northeast county of the Province of Ulster, was my native county. My mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Gaston. Her people were descended from a French Huguenot family that came to Ireland after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and they still bore their French surname. My father's people, the McClures, were from Galloway, Scotland. The family had come across the North Channel about two hundred years ago and settled in Ulster.
After the battle of the Boyne, as for hundreds of years before, it was a common thing for the Protestant kings of England to make large grants of Irish land to Protestant colonists from England and Scotland. Ulster, lying across a narrow strip of water from the Scottish coast, was given over to colonists from the Lowlands until half her population was foreign. The injustice of this system of colonization, together with the fierce retaliation of the Irish, brought about the long list of reciprocal atrocities which are at the root of the Irish question to-day.
WITH such a dark historical background, the religious feeling on both sides was intense. There had been very few instances of intermarriage between the Scotch Protestant colonists and the Irish Catholics who were the original inhabitants of the Province of Ulster. Among both Protestants and Catholics the feeling against intermarriage was so strong that, when such a marriage occurred, even in my time, it was considered a terrible misfortune as well as a disgrace. This state of feeling had kept both races pure and unmodified, though they mingled together in the most friendly fashion in all the ordinary occupations of life. In Antrim the Scotch colonists had retained much of their Lowland speech. The dialect of Mr. Barrie's stories was familiar to my ears as a child.
MY grandfather, Samuel McClure, for whom I was named, had seven sons. He lived at Drumaglea, on a small farm, and in addition to farming did carpentering, to which trade he brought up his boys. My father, Thomas McClure, was working for my grandfather as a carpenter at the time of his marriage to my mother, and continued to work for him for nearly a year after his marriage, living at his wife's home at the Frocess, one mile up the county road, and coming and going to and from his work every day. In my mother's home there were many sisters and brothers, fourteen in all—my grandfather Gaston had been married twice,—all farmers or farmers' wives.
My mother was a girl of unusual physical vigor and great energy, and had always done View Image of Page 34 farm-work. She was able to do a man's work and a woman's work at the same time. After keeping up with the men in the fields all day, she would come in and get supper for them at night. After her marriage she continued to work on her father's farm, and my father continued as one of my grandfather McClure's workmen. It was in my grandfather Gaston's house at the Frocess that I, the first child of this marriage, was born.
WHEN I was about a year old, my father bought from my grandfather McClure a little farm of nine acres at Drumaglea, and we moved into a home of our own. This is the first home I can remember. It was a two-room stone house, with an earth floor and a thatch roof, set on a long, gently sloping hillside, about an eighth of a mile back from the main road that ran between Belfast and Derry. At Drumaglea we were midway between these two seaports, twenty-six miles from Belfast and the same distance from Derry. Eight miles to the south of us was Ballymena, a town of about four thousand population then; and eight miles to the north, on the same road, was Ballymoney, a considerably smaller town.
This county road was one of the important facts of our lives. Not many years before my time, a man in Belfast named MacAdam had originated and introduced the method of metaling roads now commonly called by his name. All our roads were macadamized and kept in excellent condition, a very important thing in a country as wet as Ireland. Through the long, rainy winters these highways and the paved lanes that led out from them were hard and firm, even where they ran through great stretches of bog-land, such as that from which we gathered our peat. On either side of the county road, sloping back from it, were dikes about three feet high, and on these dikes grew the hawthorn hedges that marked the line of the roadright. It was along these dikes that we children, on our way to school, used to find the first signs of spring—yellow primroses, and violets of a deeper color than grow in countries where the air is less saturated with moisture.
Our cottage, though it had but two rooms and no ceiling under the thatch, was a comfortable enough dwelling. The rooms seemed large,—about twelve by fifteen feet,—and the kitchen served for dining-room and living-room. There was a large stone fireplace at one end, with pots and cranes, where the cooking was done. In the sleeping-room were two beds; in one slept the children,—three boys of us, in time,—and in the other my mother and father. This room served also as a parlor, and in it was kept the best household furniture. It was called "the room," and was never used in the daytime except when we had company. Formal visitors were always taken there and served with tea and eggs.
In that part of the country a caller can not escape tea. Even if you go to see several people in the same afternoon, you must have tea at each house. In larger houses than ours the parlor was a separate room, kept shut up all the time and used only when visitors of quality appeared. Neighbor women, who ran in for a few minutes with their shawls over their heads, and men who dropped in of an evening, in their workaday corduroys, were received in the kitchen, and talked there, seated by the big fireplace. It was no hardship to use the kitchen as a sitting-room. The cooking was so simple that, after the meal was over, there was no smell of food, and the ventilation was excellent. There was always the draught of the chimney, and the kitchen door was a half-door, that is, a door in halves, like the sashes of a window, swinging outward, and the upper half was nearly always open. The temperature was seldom low enough to make the outside air unpleasant, and on either side of the fireplace were high-backed settles to protect any one who was sensitive to drafts.
This house always seemed very fine to me; everything about it seemed interesting and beautiful and just as it ought to be. I remember asking my mother once whether there was anywhere in the world a more beautiful house than ours. The earthen floors would sometimes get out of repair and have to be filled in; but the house was warm and comfortable, and my mother kept it exceedingly neat. The yard about the house and the stable was paved with stone, so that even in the wet, soggy winters the place was never muddy, and the barnyard was always kept clean.
MY father kept on with his carpenter work after he bought his farm. He could hire men to work the fields for sevenpence a day, and use his own time to better profit working at his trade. My father was only twenty-five when I was born. I remember him as a young man with a brown beard—a rather quiet man with a gentle face and manner. We children were not at all afraid of him, for he was never impatient with us. He was naturally open-hearted and open-handed. If any one in need came to him, he would give away the last shilling in his pocket. I can remember several times when friendless women, alone or with their children, who were walking the road to some distant part of Ireland, View Image of Page 35 View Image of Page 36 were taken in and fed and kept overnight. We could always make a shake-down bed for people who needed shelter. Such hospitality was usual in our neighborhood; nobody thought anything of it.
My father, though he was generous, was a thrifty man, and would have got ahead in the world had he lived. After he finished the public school as a boy, he hired a tutor to come to his home and give him lessons every evening for a shilling a night. He learned surveying, in addition to thoroughly mastering his own trade. A first-rate carpenter then was able to do the work that now is divided up among several trades. My father could build a house, do the finer finishing work on the interior, and he could also build a cart and make furniture. All our furniture at home was his handiwork.
We were poor, but we were of the well-to-do poor. We were always properly dressed on Sundays. We always had hats and shoes and stockings and warm clothes in winter. We had plenty of fuel, too. On the way to my grandfather Gaston's at Frocess, the road ran through a great green bog many miles in extent. As one looked off over it from the road he could see many places where there were deep holes, some of them twenty feet deep, cut down into the bog like the shafts in a quarry, where the peat had been cut deep. Some of these holes were full of water. Every year, in the month of July, we, with our neighbors, went to the bog and cut peat for the year. It was a regular part of the farmwork, like harvesting or potato-planting, and everything else was set aside for it. It was always done in July—I suppose because the bog was drier then than at any other time of the year. In the depths of this bog were many rich fat pine roots, left there from immemorial forests and preserved in their original fibrous state. These, along with the peat, made the most excellent fuel.
Our food, like that of our neighbors, was extremely simple. Potatoes were the staple, with a sparing use of bacon and plenty of butter-milk. We did not use bread, but oat-cakes, made of oatmeal and baked on a griddle. These were very crisp and tasty when they were well made. My mother occasionally varied them with fadge, a dough made of wheat flour with an infusion of potatoes and baked like pan-cakes. Fresh meat we seldom had, but we sometimes ate dried or fresh herrings, broiling them on the tongs over the peat fire. I can remember when the use of white bread and tea began to be general among the people, and I recall hearing the old people deplore the change in food and its effect upon the teeth of the people, which at once deteriorated.
Our house was only an eighth of a mile from my grandfather McClure's, and there I had a little aunt and uncle not much older than my- View Image of Page 37 self, with whom I used to play. I used to run along the little lane that connected the two farms at all hours of the night and day. It was in that lane, after dark, that I remember being first overtaken by the sensation of fear. I remember first thinking that one might be afraid out there, and then thinking how glad I was that I was not; then, all at once, I was afraid, though I did not know of what. It was not of the devil that time, though I always carried in mind the feeling that I might meet him.
WHEN I was four years old I began to go to school. That was the first important event in my life. It was then that I first felt myself a human entity, and my first clear memories date from then. Everything before is made up of vague random impressions. The nearest National School was about a mile from our house. The schoolhouse was a well built stone building, excellently equipped. There was one room downstairs for the boys, another upstairs for the girls. In our room there were six benches, or forms, with a long desk in front of each, running from one side of the room to within three feet of the opposite side. On each of these long benches sat one class. The boys of the highest form sat on the front bench nearest the teacher. I, of course, was put with the little boys in the form at the back of the room.
I remember my distress at being put next to some very dirty children, and I remember how tired I got in the afternoon. For the first three days, toward four o'clock in the afternoon, I had a long crying spell from sheer fatigue, from sitting up on the bench, and the long hours, perhaps. I distinctly remember how kind the teacher, Mr. Boyd, was to me when these crying-fits came on, and how considerate the other boys were, big and little, not making fun of me, nor teasing me at all.
For the next six months my recollections about my school life are vague. I saw that if I learned my letters fast I would soon be able to get away from the dirty children with whom I had to sit, and pass into the next form, which I did in a few months. From then on my school life was one of unalloyed happiness. My life, the pleasant part of it, has always been made up of interests, and my school was my first live interest.
School lasted six hours a day, fifty weeks of the year, and there was only a half-holiday on Saturdays. I was always a little sad to see Saturday come around, because there were more interesting things to do at school than there were at home. I liked everything about going to school. I liked the teacher and the boys and girls. The girls were taught in classes of their own on the second floor of the building; but we all came and went and played on the road together. At noon we played in the triangular View Image of Page 38 playground in front of the school, with a little brook running beside it. The boys of our school were all well mannered and likable. I do not remember any fights or quarrels. Some of my dearest friends were Catholic children. I love some of those boys to this day. We were all like brothers together.
Sometimes I walked to school alone, and sometimes with my young aunt and uncle. I always enjoyed the walk, whatever the weather. In winter the fields got soft, but the grass fields and the grass along the hedges stayed green, and there was only an occasional flurry of snow. Rain we did not mind. The roads were always firm underfoot. Potatoes were planted in March, and spring began early. When the spring flowers came on and the hawthorn hedges bloomed, the walk to school became such a delight that I could scarcely wait to set off in the morning.
Children feel such things much more than grown people know. I can remember what pleasure and comfort I took, even then, in every morning looking up and seeing the blue of distant mountains on the horizon. There was something reassuring to me as a child about that vague line of purple hills, and I thought it an indispensable feature of horizons. Some years later, on the prairies of Illinois, I learned that it was not, and I used to long for those far-away mountains very bitterly.
MY eagerness to be off to school in the morning was attended by one sad consequence. I was not a strong child, and always had to be coaxed to eat my breakfast. I was never hungry for it. Eggs were a luxury and we could not afford them, but my father used to have one egg for his breakfast every morning. When he cut the top off his egg to eat it from the shell, I can remember being given that little piece of the white as a special appetizer. But usually I ate very little for breakfast. After I had set off on the road to school, however, and met other children, and wakened up to the sights and smells of the morning, then I began to feel happy and to get very hungry. With firm resolution I would open the package of oat-cake that was to serve for my school luncheon, and I would nibble a very little of it. Then I would wrap it up again. But the farther I walked the better I felt, and I would make all sorts of excuses to myself to justify another attack on the oat-cake—such as that it would be pleasanter to eat it under the hawthorn hedge than in the schoolhouse; that disposing of the oat-cake now would give me all the more time for play or study at noon; or—most improbable of all—that very likely at noon I should not be hungry at all! However I reasoned, I always ate the oatcake, to the last crumb. The same thing happened over and over, every day, for months and years. I was always lunchless and terribly hungry at noon, and I always ate my cake on the way to school again the very next day. I enjoyed my cake, too, unless I let my conscience trouble me too much about the irregularity of my conduct.
The road to school led through a beautiful country; it ran, indeed, among those same pleasant fields of oats and beets and potatoes over which we looked out from our own door. The flax-fields, with their beautiful blossoms, were the prettiest. The linen industry is one of the principal resources of the North of Ireland, and these flax-fields, with their sky-blue flowers, were a conspicuous feature of the landscape. In August the flax stalks used to lie for weeks in ditches full of water, until the softer matter had rotted away from the fibers.
In the spring and summer we passed by great patches of yellow gorse which we called whin bushes. The road led over a fine stone bridge with a single arch, which I always liked to cross, as the stream below it was very clear. But this bridge had its terrors, too. Just beyond it there was a public house where they kept geese and very fierce ganders that used to come squawking and thrusting out their beaks at us children. We little fellows were very much afraid of them indeed. I used to look forward to those geese with uncomfortable apprehension. The next landmark on the road was a church. It was not the church we attended; I don't know that I ever saw the inside of it. But it was a fine old stone church, and the church-yard was grown up with dark, luxuriant green bushes; they may have been rhododendrons. Passing this church always gave me a sense of great pleasure.
THE school-room was not quiet, as schools are now. As you approached it you heard a hum of voices. While one form recited, the other forms studied, many of the boys going over their lessons aloud. Physical punishment was a very live fact in school then. Occasionally a boy was ferruled over the hand, and we believed that if you could manage to put two hairs from your head across your palm before you held out your hand to the ruler, the pain of chastisement would be greatly mitigated. When a boy was whipped he usually tried to stuff cloth or paper in the seat of his trousers.
The most interesting thing about school, however, was lessons. We were exceedingly well taught. The National School system was then, as it is now, one of the best in the world. View Image of Page 39 Every few years each teacher in the public schools was required to spend six months in Dublin, freshening up his knowledge and receiving instruction in new methods of education. I can remember when our teacher, Mr. Boyd, went, and how none of us cared much for the substitute who took his place during his absence. Arithmetic and history were the branches liked best. Working out examples was like playing a game; I never tired of it. For a long while I was convinced that long division was the most exciting exercise a boy could find.
I got up at six o'clock every morning to study my lessons. I remember that I once got up at half-past two o'clock by mistake, and it did not seem worth while to go back to bed again. I studied right on until breakfast-time. I can not remember a day when I did not want to go to school. But I used to hate to come home. It seemed dull to come back to the house and sit down to some fried potatoes that were usually a little too greasy. My feeling of the excitement and importance of the day, and of my part in it, seemed to die down as soon as I came into the doorway.
I never got over that feeling. At college everything went well with me until Friday night, and then a blank stretched before me. It always seemed a hard pull until Monday. I was never able to lay aside the interests and occupations of my life with any pleasure, and I have always experienced a sense of dreariness on going into houses where one was supposed to leave them outside. I have never been able to have one set of interests to work with and another set to play with. This is my misfortune, but it is true.
I FOUND it very hard to get books enough to read, particularly as I could never get any pleasure out of reading a book the second time. "Pilgrim's Progress" was the exception; I was View Image of Page 40 able to read that two or three times with delight. Besides that, we had at home only Fox's "Book of Martyrs" and the Bible. I remember feeling very much depressed when I finished the historical books of the Old Testament, because then the last of those exciting stories was over for me. I think I liked these Old Testament stories better than any others. They took the place of books of adventure to me. I remember, too, reading one of the Gospels through several times, and each time hoping that Jesus would get away from his enemies.
Several times a year a big box of new schoolbooks from Dublin was left at our school. Opening those boxes and looking into the fresh books that still had the smell of the press, was about the most delightful thing that happened during the year. The readers contained excellent reading matter, and until I had read them through the new ones were a treasure.
My father and mother had once been Presbyterians, but in 1859 a revival swept over the northern part of Ireland, and they were converted to the new sect, which had no name and which strove to return to the simple teachings of the early church and to use the New Testament as a book of conduct, abolishing every sort of form. These believers had no houses of worship. Our congregation met sometimes in an upper chamber of the minister's house in Ballymena, and when I was old enough I used to walk the eight miles there with my mother. At other times the minister would come to Drumaglea and hold the services in our house or in the house of one of our neighbors.
Long discussions on religious matters were common among the neighbors, and in these a boy, if he could "argue," was allowed to take part. Infant baptism was one of the subjects most frequently discussed, and people felt very strongly about it. There was much talk, too, about men being saved by faith. The best man in the world would be lost unless he repented and accepted the sacrifice of Christ's blood, while a man who had committed crimes would, if he truly repented and believed, be saved. There was no discussion about a personal devil or a literal hell, because there was no doubt about them. If any one suggested that the torments of hell might be mental rather than physical, he was set down as an atheist without further question. I remember taking part in these discussions when I was seven or eight years old.
We heard some discussion of the Civil War, too; but our notions about it were vague. When Mr. Boyd, our schoolmaster, explained to us boys that the war was between the Northern and Southern States of North America, and not between North and South America, that was a great revelation to us.
I can remember, when I was about eight years old, going into Patrick McKeever's country store one evening, and seeing a group of men standing close together in the dim candle-light, talking in an excited way. I listened, and heard them say that President Lincoln had been assassinated. I can remember the scene perfectlya—the people composing that group, their attitudes, and the expression on their faces. View Image of Page 41 No piece of news from the outside world had ever moved me so much. It was the first of the world happenings, the first historical event, that had ever cast a shadow in my little world.
Years afterward, when I was publishing Miss Tarbell "Life of Lincoln" in MCCLURE'S MAGAZINE, I interviewed a great many people, and I found that every one of them could remember minutely the circumstances under which he first heard of Lincoln's assassination: where he was, what he happened to be doing at the time, exactly how the news reached him. That day stood apart from other days in his life.
Every summer my mother took us children to Ballycastle, on the seashore, eighteen miles to the northeast. There, on the bay across from Fairhead, we used to take lodgings and stay for a week or so, that the children might have the benefit of the sea air. There we went bathing, and were allowed to play along the shore. I can remember, on one of these sojourns by the sea, when I was about five years old, becoming desperately attached to a young woman called Phoebe, a sister of our landlady. But after we went away I never thought of her again.
My first trip to Ballymena excited me very much. All the way there I kept feeling afraid that the city would not come up to my expectations, and I was so impatient that I thought every village along the road must surely be Ballymena. When we at last reached the place, everything delighted me—the clean streets, the neat brass signs outside the doors, the smell of soft-coal smoke,—it was the first time I had ever smelled that odor so suggestive of the city,—and most of all the gas street lamps, which were lit before we started for home. Those street lights seemed to suggest London, where I had always meant to go. I had thought about America, too, and that I would sometime go there in a ship. My notion of a ship was unconventional; I always imagined ships as being round, like a wash-bowl, with a mast in the center, from which ropes were stretched to the rim, and on this rim the passengers sat.
When I was seven years old my father went to Belfast to work at his trade in Wolff & Harland's shipyards. He had been away from us only a few weeks when my youngest brother, Robert, a year and a half old, died of diphtheria. After his death my father came home to see us, and stayed with us for a while. Then he went over to Greenock, in Scotland, to work on a man-of-war that was being built there, doing some of the finer carpenter work in the finishing of the cabins. I remember how sorry we were to see him go, and how we watched him from the house, as he went down our hill, across the road, and then disappeared over the next hill.
UP to this time, however, I have had very few gloomy recollections. I was always delighted at the good fortune of being alive at all, of living in such a beautiful country and such a beautiful house, of being able to go to school and of having such fine playfellows. I have spoken of the long rainy winters, but when I think suddenly View Image of Page 42 of Ireland I think of blue skies, light, fleecy clouds, and glowing sun. I know there was a great deal of raw weather, but it is the memory of the pleasant weather that seems to have stayed with me. I have often noticed that after a sea voyage or a sojourn in foreign countries, people remember the fine days, but the bad weather they soon forget.
All the turns of the season were delightful to me. In winter, when we used to come home from school through the twilight, I got great pleasure out of the early nightfall and the fact that it was dark by half-past four. That seemed to end the responsibilities of the day most agreeably, and to give one such a long evening. In summer I always found something exciting in being able to read out-of-doors up until ten o'clock at night, and in the fact that there were then only three or four hours of darkness out of the twenty-four.
I was very conscious, too, of the kindness of older people. I used to wonder about it, and to think how remarkable it was that they should make allowances for all my peculiar shortcomings, and that they always treated me so nicely. This feeling that the world all about me was friendly to me was very distinct, and it counted for a great deal in my life. I suppose I was an optimistic child, for I was always confident that delightful things were going to happen, and I never believed that unpleasant ones would, or even thought that they might. On my way home from school I was always imagining that when I got home I would find a splendid surprise of some kind, that something wonderfully nice had happened to the house or to my mother, or was waiting for me. One of my favorite anticipations was that when I got home and ran into the house, I would find a beautiful lady sitting there—quite a story-book sort of person, a lady of quality, radiantly lovely and magnificently dressed. But I was never downhearted when these things did not come true.
WHAT did come true was something I had never even believed possible.
One November day, when I was nearly eight years old, I was going home from school in very high spirits. I had then been at the head of my class in every subject for seven weeks, and I was feeling that my father would be very proud to hear this. My class, moreover, was the highest in the school, and my classmates were big boys, fourteen and fifteen years of age. It usually took a boy more than a year to get through a form; but I had started to school when I was four years old, and in three years I had got into the sixth form, doing two forms a year. I found it exciting to stand at the head View Image of Page 43 of a class of boys nearly twice my age, and I tried hard to keep my place at the head—though I remember reflecting that this was a low motive for trying to do well in my studies.
On this November day I was coming along the home road with several other boys, and we were all feeling unusually gay. We stopped at a turnip patch beside the road, where there were Swedish turnips, very sweet and not at all bitter. We were all hungry, and we went into the field and began to eat turnips with great enjoyment. While we were laughing and talking, a man came along the road, and called out to me:
"Samuel, your da is deid."
I left the turnip patch and started home, but I had no clear realization of what the man meant. When I got home, I found neighbor women there, looking after the younger children and the house. My mother and my grandfather McClure had gone to Glasgow to my father. Father had finished his day's work on the war-ship, and was leaving the vessel to go to his supper and then to the prayer-meeting. Through the carelessness of one of the workmen, a hatch had been left open that was supposed to be kept closed. In leaving his work my father fell down this hatchway, from the deck clear to the bottom of the hold, and seriously injured the base of his skull. He was taken to the infirmary at Glasgow, and died within three days after his admission to the hospital. My mother and grandfather did not reach the infirmary until after his death.
In 1890, when I was visiting Professor Henry Drummond in Glasgow, I went to the infirmary, and found the record in the books there of my father's admission to the hospital,—"Thomas McClure, injury to the spine,"—together with the number of the room in which he was put; and after looking at the books I was shown the room in which he died. He was thirty-two years of age at the time of his death.
I DO not remember any funeral service. I remember that my father was brought home, I remember the coffin standing in the living-room, and the neighbors coming in to see my mother. I remember thinking then about my father's visit with us after the baby died, and about the day he went away, down our hill and over the next, and trying to realize that the look I had of him going over the hill was the last sight I would ever have of my father. The coffin was not opened. When it was taken away from the house, neither my mother nor we boys went to the interment.
It was after my father died, while his body was still in the house, indeed, that I began for the first time to be conscious of the pressure of poverty. It was not that we were desperately destitute or in immediate need, but the bread-winner of the family was gone, and I was conscious that we were facing difficulties. I knew that my mother was worrying, I could see that in her face. I remember, while my father's coffin was in the house, going out on the road and hoping that I would find just sixteen pennies in a row there, to take to my mother. It seemed to me that they would solve her difficulties.
Two months after my father's death my youngest brother was born. My mother named him Robert after the little boy who died. We suffered no serious privations, but another baby added to my mother's cares and perplexities, and there was the feeling of hard times in the house. I used to notice how at night, when we were going to bed, my mother would keep looking toward the window. I took it for granted that she was thinking of my father, and indeed it seemed to me that I might at any time see his face there, pressed against the pane. It took me a long while to realize that he had really gone away from us for good. I did not cease to miss him for many years. After we went to America, when I was a boy of fifteen or sixteen, going to the Valparaiso High School, I used to waken up in the night and cry from the sense of my loss.
My mother stayed on at our old place at Drumaglea for a year, and managed the farm herself. She was a thoroughly capable farmer, but when we were deprived of my father's wages the farm of nine acres was simply too small to support a woman and three boys, and pay the rental, and the hire of a man to help with the work. At the end of a year, therefore, my mother sold the farm back to my grandfather McClure for £100 (five hundred dollars). My father had paid only £50 for it when he bought it, but under careful farming the land had risen in value. Then there was nothing for my mother to do but to take her four boys and go back to her father's house. My grandfather Gaston died when my mother was a young girl, and my grandmother and the younger boys lived in his house at the Frocess. There we were not very happy. My mother was troubled about the future, and I was transferred to the Frocess school, where I never felt at home as I had at my own school. In the new school I did not get on so well in my lessons. I was homesick all the time for my old playmates and my old schoolmaster. Nothing about the new school seemed as nice as the old one was.
Naturally, in my grandfather's house there was a good deal of discussion as to my mother's future and what she ought to do. Her brothers thought it very impractical to try to keep the family together. Their feeling was that we children had better be separated and parceled around among our aunts and uncles, and that my mother should stay on at my grandmother's house and work, as she had when she was a girl. But my mother would not hear to this. Before everything she would keep the family together.
My mother felt that she had not received all that was due her in the distribution of her father's estate. One morning in the early spring she and I walked to Clough, about three miles from the Frocess, to consult a lawyer. When my mother heard what steps it would be necessary for her to take to attempt to recover what she thought was due her, she decided not to enter upon such a controversy. We left Clough in low spirits, as we saw now no way of bettering our condition. On our way home we stopped at the Clough graveyard, where my father and little brother were buried. There was but one grave, for when my father was buried my brother's grave was opened and the little coffin containing his body was placed on top of my father's coffin. Coming home from Clough that day, my mother and I sought out this grave, and there, in our discouragement, we sat down and cried.
IT was soon after this that we first began to talk of going to America. Mother then had two unmarried brothers and two married sisters living in Porter County and Lake County, Indiana, and she thought that in America she could make a living for herself and her boys.
We began to read steamship circulars and to consult railway maps, and soon we began to make actual preparations for the journey. My mother had some little money left from the sale of our farm. It was, of course, something of an undertaking for a widow with four children—the eldest nine years old—and very little money, to start across the ocean to make her living and support her boys in a strange land.View Image of Page 45
We took passage on the Mongolia, a vessel of four thousand tons owned by the Allan Line. I remember that my mother bought cloth and had new suits made for us boys. When we started on our journey we took the train at Glarryford, and I remember the scenes of parting at the Glarryford railway station. There were a good many people from our part of the country going on the Mongolia, and their fathers and mothers had come to the railway station to bid them good-by. The old women wept as if they were taking a last farewell of their children. Indeed, statistics show that many of these Irish immigrants never see home again. I often think how much heartbreak each of our incoming steamers from Ireland or from Italy represents. For the old people at home such partings are like death.
In our case there was no bitter grief. My mother was of a hopeful nature. She was then a strong young woman of twenty-nine, and was confident that she was doing the best thing for her boys. We were to sail from Londonderry. When the train swept around a curve and ran alongside Lough Foyle, the water seemed to me to rise in a slope beside us. We got off the train, and were put into a tender that carried us out of this Lough, twenty-six miles to the open sea, where we got on board the Mongolia, which had sailed from Glasgow.
WE sailed on Friday the 14th day of June, 1866, when I was nine years old. Our steerage quarters were comfortable. We were not crowded, and the food was good. The first two days and nights we were all seasick and very miserable. I lay in my bunk Friday night with a raging thirst. I was too ill to get water, and nobody else was well enough to get any for me. I remember dreaming that I was drinking cool buttermilk in my grandmother Gaston's milkhouse at the Frocess. By Sunday, however, we were well enough to be on deck. I found everything delightful, and greatly enjoyed playing on the clean decks. All the way across I had a singular illusion which I have never since had at sea; it seemed to me that the surface of the water was concave, shaped like a bowl, that the vessel moved at the bottom of this concavity, and that the water swelled on all sides and met the sky.
We were to land at Quebec. I can remember going into the Gulf of St. Lawrence and then into the St. Lawrence River, and the never-to-be-repeated sensation of approaching the coast of a foreign land for the first time. Although this is an experience that one can never have twice, I had somewhat the same feeling, years afterward, when I first saw Jerusalem. We had sailed from Londonderry June 14, and we landed at Quebec June 26. The railway journey from Quebec to Valparaiso, Indiana, took seven days. Our immigrant train would be held up for hours on a side-track while passenger trains and even fast freights passed us. We bought our food as we went along, changing our English money as we had need. We were delighted to find that we got seven or eight dollars in exchange for a gold sovereign, but we were astonished to see how fast these dollars slipped away when we came to buy food. Everything, of course, was dearer than at home.
We reached Valparaiso on the third day of July, 1866. I suppose we were all very tired by this time, for I do not recall much about our arrival. My uncle, Joseph Gaston, met us with a wagon, and drove us fourteen miles south of Valparaiso to the farm where my mother's sister, Mrs. Coleman, lived.
The next day we drove to Hebron, two miles away, and there I celebrated my first Fourth of July in America, had my first firecrackers and lemonade. The exercises were conducted in a grove, where there were wooden seats and a speaker's platform. The orator of the day was Mr. Turpie, who was then the Democratic candidate for Congress. I remember feeling that he and I were of opposing parties. I don't know how or when I became a Republican, but I landed at Quebec nine years old and a readymade Republican. Mr. Turpie, in his speech, voiced the sentiments usually expressed on such occasions. He talked about the land of freedom, of popular institutions, and unbounded opportunities. I had never heard such a speech before. All these sentiments were new to me and moved me very deeply. As I sat in the grove listening to this speech, I could see off across the country, as far as my eye could reach, a great stretch of unfenced prairie in place of the little hedge-fenced fields I had always known. My heart swelled with the swelling periods of the orator. I felt that, as he said, here was something big and free—that a boy might make his mark on those prairies. Here was a young country for Youth.