Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort
Chapters One to Three
[Pages 1 to 11 are missing.]
thought that Law School was built for a large number of serious-looking young men, who left with still more serious-looking books under their arms, and then went over to the "Cottage". But it wasn't; it was built with steps for us to play on and stone blocks for us to jump from. All along were houses built with windows, not to look from, but for us to climb to. Gates for us to swing on, hydrants for us to leap over, fences and stoops for us to hide behind. Why things were could be of no interest to us. For we know: everything was for us.
We a mile away from everything familiar: the witch and the crazy man and the two old maids. Wondering what we should do to be acquainted. Wondering which families had boys in them. Interested in one family, which had a doctor and a dress-reform advocate in it. Advocate coming out in an awful, old rig; that was more dress-reform. We learned something new every day. And across the street was a family even more interesting. For it had not only a General but an Irish setter in it. We could never be so important as all that, but some day we might be a Colonel and own a pug. And there were little boys up and down the street; but none of them was friendly. We taking a sleigh away from a little girl, just to be acquainted. Trouble. Pushing another little girl into a snow pile; perhaps she'd speak to us. More trouble. Knocking a little boy's hat off; that might lead to acquaintance. Little boy beating us fearfully. Oh, we'd just have to go away and be a hermit somewhere!
But allowed to play in the street very little. Spending a good deal of the time in the top floor, which had been fitted up with swings and a see-saw for us. Hurrying home from school, avoiding bad, little boys, going to the park every sunny afternoon with Katie Rooley, the little kind in the baby carriage, we on one side and the other kid on the other side. Collecting pebbles from the gravel walks and listening to the gossip of a dozen nurse girls all in a row. Then walking through the grass on our way home to brush the dust from our shoes, looking creditable to any household, as Mrs. Lawson kept us looking.
And in the yard we played, interested in the plants, which were thinking, feeling, little creatures in the world that Mrs. Lawson lived in and had us, too, live in. Coming home from School in an Autumn afternoon. Piles of flower pots and window gardens scattered around. Mrs. Lawson calling for us to help for all we were worth; for Jack Frost was coming. Digging and transplanting for all we were worth, helping to get our friends into the house before Jack Frost could catch them. Speaking to geraniums, telling them to have no fear, for we were taking them to a place where they'd be safe all Summer.(1) Of course they could not understand us, you know; but at the same time, they could understand us. Then great excitement! Mrs. Lawson telling us that Jack Frost was only a mile away. All four of us working desperately, getting all the plants in, just as Jack Frost peeked around the church steeple. All but the sunflower stalks, this discriminating worrying us so that we'd dig up at least one monster of a sun flower, and smuggle it to the top floor to save it too.
Taking turns reading aloud with Mrs. Lawson every afternoon. The Old
Boy looking in through the window now and then, but seldom really getting
in, for we, too, would seize a broom to help drive him away. We'd rather
read than climb fences except, of course, when we really had to climb fences.
But arithmetic! It seems fixed in our mind that the multiplication table
did not extend beyond twelve times twelve; thirteen times anything was
something else. A teacher told us to multiply sixty by
[Pages 14 and 15 are missing.]
to shoot wads of paper around the congregation; a bald head would count fifteen; ears, ten, and so on. It was a very amusing, little game. But we almost liked Sunday school, especially as there were some very good books in the library. Religion as an emotion, was strong in us, though, quite as strong, was a resisting of this emotion. Sometimes, all that wanted to be Christians were called upon to raise their hands. A throbbing and an urging would almost overcome us with a seeing of beauty in what we were called upon to be. But our hand would never go up, as if a feeling of sternness withheld us from what seemed to us an indecent advertising of feeling.
And in the kitchen we spent a good deal of time, except in the reign of Ella, who would chase us into the street, hopping the length of the house on one foot, waving a slipper. Then came Katie, which made two Katies in the house. Mrs. Lawson thought this over, and decided that one should have another name. She was pleased with "Myrtle". And you should have seen big, fat Katie turn purple with indignation when called "Myrtle". Each Katie admitted that two Katies made confusion, but each insisted that the other was Myrtle, so that Mrs. Lawson would call, "Myrtle! Myr-tle! Myr-tell!" and no one would answer.
But we liked to peel apples, trying to peel as well as Katie could,
making long spirals, throwing them over a left shoulder for good luck.
Turning the ice cream freezer, getting what was left on the dasher for
our work. Baking bits of dough, which, if made to look remotely like a
man or a cat, seemed different. They were accomplished girls in our kitchen;
they spoke Latin fluently, which awed us a good deal. But then we picked
up a little Latin ourself, learning that some Latin words are much like
English words. We might have picked up a good deal of interesting gossip,
were it not that our conceit made us cry that we, too, understood. The
cook would say, "Isery yourery
[Page 17 is missing.]
Then the boy next door told us that there is no Santa Claus; he had pretended to sleep, and had seen his father arrange gifts around him. We had never thought to doubt Santa Claus before, but had a feeling that, doubt as we might, the boy was right. Then torments like religious unrest. Kind, jolly, old Santa Claus coming down chimneys was too beautiful to give up. But no one could possibly come down our chimney. Then the reindeers, Prancer, Dancer, and all the rest, skimming from roof to roof. We could not give it up; it was too beautiful. But we had to; reindeers can not skim from roof to roof.
Oh, don't take from us any more of our beliefs! Perhaps heaven and the angels, too, were only myths. But, though we had never seen an angel, we knew the Old Boy was real, for we had seen him. We were not quite sure just when, but one, cold gray day, he had looked in through the window, and then, St. Dunstan had caught and held his nose in red hot pinchers. Heaven and angels were true: we were sure, because the sky was so blue. Looking down, knowing whenever we were untruthful, because everytime we told a white lie a little white mark appeared on a finger nail. We often desponded; our finger nails were full of them. And for worse lies, a canker would appear upon our tongue.
Looking down, seeing everything we did except when we went into a dark room and closed the windows before eating anything stolen.
And there, too, was Conscience. Sometimes at night, may be as late as ten o'clock, Mrs. Lawson would look up and see us stepping on our feet in the door way. She'd say, "Why, I thought you were asleep hours ago."
We'd say, "Conscience is pricking me." Confessing some fearful
crime. Faltering and writhing, but feeling that every word lessened the
burden. Mrs. Lawson taking us in her arms, softly singing tearful, penitent
us to sleep with the psalm about green pastures.
[Pages 19 and 20 are missing.]
not even picking out offenders, sobbing and shouting, loyalty flaming
in us, fighting for our own. These seizures or rags were common with us.
On our way home from school, older boys would tease us, just to see us
run frantically around the street searching for cobble stones to throw.
But there was always an underlying self control, for we'd hurl a cobble
stone awry, if an enemy should be too near. It was a pose, delighting us
to show how awful we were. Only causing entertainment, but thinking we
were striking with terror. And during recess, the older boys would rally
with the smaller boys. Other, small boys running away, but we standing
where we were, in our sobbing, hysterical rage, with its underlying posing.
Floundering in the snow, snowballs rattling against our face, handfuls
of slush thrown down our neck. Staggering and fighting, calling to the
other, small boys, "Come back, ye cowards!" Very much liking
the "ye"; it seemed as if right out of a story book. Crying things
we had read, our mind filled with much reading. But it was not courage;
it was our joy in the picturesque, we seeing gallantry and romance in our
defiance. And we had a mania to fight with larger boys, because of the
glory that would come to us if we should triumph. There were boys of our
own size that we were afraid of, but any larger boy bullying or boasting
would possess us with our mania, and we fought continually on the way home
from school. Often beaten, but not caring; a larger boy had done it and
there was no disgrace. And often winning, for we were strong and chunky.
Then the cries from the others would be exalting music, and we'd tingle
as we'd see some other boy glad to carry our books home for us. Then we'd
want to be chivalrous and forgiving the next day, offering the enemy candy,
encouraging no references to our victory, though we longed for references
all day long, walking home with the enemy to help him if anyone should
[Page 22 is missing.]
wings. Catching a wasp and learning our first truth in natural history. Holding him by the head, and starting to laugh at him, because then he could not bite us. Only starting; then pained to learn that wasps back up to sting. Holding our breath for a while, and then running into the house to tell everyone our astonishing discovery that there are creatures with the habits of a coal cart. A new world over there in the club grounds; there were grasshoppers in the lawn, a nest of big, black ants in the hollow, pear tree, and in a corner lurked a red-legged spider with a green body as large as a hen's egg. We remember him very well, though of course there never has been such a spider. But there was a new world, and we felt a necessity for strange inhabitants and horrible creatures in it. No snakes and no dragons; so with spiders we created the elements of horror. Wanting to know all about everything; exposing our ears to "darning needles" as we called dragon flies, feeling that it is untrue that they sew up little boys' ears. Digging unsightly holes in the club grounds embankment, not knowing why, but feeling that if we should dig down a foot, we should learn something. Digging down two feet would be twice as interesting; picturing ourself digging to the very center of the earth. Unearthing bits of china such as you will find in all filled-in ground. Having an impression that we had dug down to China, not meaning a pun, not knowing really what we did mean, except that China was somewhere under our feet. We were so much interested in geography that it seemed not a study but a pleasure, but still we had a good many impressions foreign to facts. North America was a stern, rugged creature with a head and a long bill; South America was feminine, gentle and softly rounded; Asia was flat and light yellow.
But Mrs. Lawson would call us from the digging to tell us that we were
making extra work for some poor man with a large
[Pages 24 to 27 are missing.]
bare tree; seeing a bunch of straw and horse hair. An old nest. We climbed
to it. Putting the old nest in our pocket; birds had built it; once birds
had lived in it. But we wanted a nest with eggs in it; had thought that
out in the real country, there were nests in almost every tree. Then running
from tree to tree, searching for a nest with eggs in it. Splashing mud
over ourself; not seeing the mud in our excitement. Then someone came to
us, and led us back to the hotel, where our grandfather, though kind, reproached
us, and feared that we should never be a good, business man. We wanted
to be a good, business man; in our atmosphere, we had a belief that doctors,
lawyers, all in other callings are lower int he scale of importance than
those that sell groceries though only wholesale of course. We expected
to be a partner some day, as They had become, or, even better, to travel
for the firm. But all around were hintings and whisperings of something
that seemed wondrous and better and meant for us. We heard and felt in
that first orchard and in our remembrance of the orchard. Strange things
were told us in every picture of a lake or a bit of meadow land. We should
not have expressed the heresy, but felt that there was some kind of a life
higher than that of a dealer in groceries. Though we knew not quite what,
there was something that we wanted in things that have nothing to do with
cities and good, business men.
1. "Summer" is written, but "Winter" was undoubtedly intended.
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