Remnants of an Autobiography by Charles Hoy Fort
Chapters Eleven and Twelve
We were almost fifteen years of age, and were to take the examinations for High School. We had been taught physiology only in a general way, but had dissected a good deal and had clumsily articulated many small skeletons. But as we read with the underlying desire to be thought remarkable, and as we fought upon the slightest provocation, for glory, we made our collection much larger than that of any other boy we knew, to be thought interesting. Behind everything that we did that was not of shiftlessness and indolence was the animating desire to be thought picturesque or interesting. Once we took Bob Pavey as one of the many partners that we could bear to have share wonders with us from one week to two weeks. In the physiology class, Miss Williams produced a number of phials of alcohol with specimens in them. Handing them out to have them passed from one to another. A toad's heart, a blue bird's liver, the alimentary canal of a lizard; all neatly labelled. We were furious; they were ours, and Bob had brought them to school. Then all the credit was his. Miss Williams saying, "Where is the heart? We had put it in our pocket. "Where is that lung?" It was in our pocket. "I see there is still a liver missing." In our pocket. Oh, fearful that credit for our work should go to another!
"You have a queer way of acting with the property of others," said Miss Williams, sharply.
We wanted to denounce our partner passionately. "They're mine," we said, sullenly. We were a forgiving kind of a boy, but, though that was fifteen years ago, we have not spoken to Bob Pavey since. He took credit that was our credit.
Roman history, we had not studied in school at all. But we went to the High School, and taking examinations in Roman history and physiology, passed the Regents in both. But our regular examinations! We had kept just barely up with the class in grammar, and in arithmetic we were floundering as if something had been clipped from our mind. We knew; we could not pass. Then truly we should have to go and be a hermit away off somewhere.
The afternoon of the day before examinations. The other kid was waiting outside school for us. Doing a little business in the meantime by trading cigarette pictures to our common advantage. Making the best bargain he could, for we liked to surprise each other. Dear me, how we liked surprises! We'd put candy away and pretend to forget it, just so that we could run across it some time and be surprised to find it. Telling ourself we had thirty cents in our bank, when we very well knew we had fifty cents, then trying to lose track. Just to surprise ourself. One of us telling the other of a very poor bargain, when he made a very good bargain; just to surprise the other a few minutes later.
The cigarette-picture business was the best line that our firm had been
in. Both partners thoroughly business-like, keeping books and balancing
accounts to see whether they were prospering. Narrowly watching the market,
keeping track of quotations during recess or trading hours after school.
[Pages 138 to 147 are missing.]
And behind the things that we dreamed of and the things that we did there was a new instinct, though really only our old posing to be picturesque in a further-on form. We no longer caring for glory as a fighter; all pleasure in the picturesque had settled in our diary. Finding interest in every happening, because it was something to write about. We, who were a collector of curiosities were a collector of incidents also. Trying to write about a hare and hound chase; our mind filled with impressions all mixed up. The start; the thundering of a score of feet on the park lake bridge; the lawlessness of running up the terrace, following paper strewn by lawless hares; the mystery of where we should end up, and a far-away pleasure in the marvel of following a trail that anyone but a blind man could have followed. Scenes changing swiftly; through a barnyard, over a lawn, through ploughed fields, over a fence, torn down in a rush and a scramble.
Then trying to write, laboring with incidents, feeling an impression of force in the pack of hounds rushing together; or of mystery when at the foot of the hill and the hares may be just over the top or miles away. With these impression, we could do nothing. But telling particularly about some of the boys, having an instinct to bring characters into our story, like recurring mention of them, drawing a map of the course, marking every road and every field, trying to keep every feature within the scale of two inches to a mile.
Or. Five of us out shooting; three of us our rival collectors. A black
speck in a distant field; a dead crow. Then all five running. Three rivals
passing us; we too heavy. And we were without a crow in our collection;
we, who would stuff him; they, who would cut off wings, head and tail.
Then the other kid bounding on ahead, stopping to trip the nearest rival,
pouncing on the crow. Crow ours; but, quite as delighting, we had to race
to write about.
[Pages 149 to 151 are missing.]
"We are indeed three brothers--" It was too much for the little kid. He leaned against a fence post, and put up his arm. He didn't want us to see him cry.
And it was too much for us, for we were looking at the little kid, with his little arm up.
Our same old madness; some of it because we were seized upon, some of it to impress the others. Crying that we should kill Them. Butting our head against a post. Knocked flat. Butting and falling in frenzy, trying to kill ourself or whatever the post meant to us. The other kid looked on, disapproving; the little kid stood erect, not a sign of anything at all on his face.
We said no more. Covering the jars with earth; marking the place with pebbles for grave stones. All three sat on the piazza, saying very little. They took the little kid away.
Evening. Going to the dining room. We had been crying all afternoon, and felt that if there were the slightest reference to the little kid we should break down. And we and the other kid paused in the doorway. For we saw something. What the other kid saw was a smaller table; a leaf had been taken out. This was sensible to the other kid; the table had been too large anyway. He went to his chair to eat his supper, which was what he had gone down to do.
What we saw was the meaning of a vacant chair in the leaf that had been taken from the table. Littleness there brought to us littleness that was no longer there. We could not move and we could not speak. Just standing there, the other kid looking at us as if wondering what new flightiness could be the matter with us.
They looked from the newspaper; we had feared that look once.
We said, "Oh!" Just softly, because we were choked and quivering
[Pages 153 to 155 are missing.]
three found an old revolver of large calibre; snapping the rusty old revolver at one another. Just happening to aim at something else when it went off; nothing left of the something else. Slipping on roofs, but catching a projection just before going over. Beams and stones falling in the Capitol just where we had been a second before. Run over more than once, we lying quiet between wheels or runners. Breaking through the ice; someone throwing a skate strap to us. Here we are still. That in all this world there should be more than two or three grown men seems remarkable.
Our first day in the High School. Boys everywhere; or, not boys everywhere, for girls everywhere. Girls with arms around one another; would have fallen; could not have walked without those arms around. Girls tottering and timid when alone; girls brave enough, chewing gum, afraid of no one when arms were around. Teachers bustling, trying to get things in order for the new year, bustling two minutes, and then taking twenty minutes to tell about their vacations, some of them tanned, a great degree of credit seeming to reflect from a great degree of tan. Older pupils coming in, looking curiously at us first years. Second years, juniors, even seniors coming in. We heard it whispered around when a genuine senior came in. He looked it; we marvelled. Genuine senior talking with a teacher; talking with another teacher; genuine senior talking actually with three teachers. Oh, never again would there be any running around the streets for us; no more peppering of windows with sling shots; we wanted to be a genuine senior and talk with three teachers. Or four teachers; we were always ambitious. We sitting there of no importance; no one paying us any attention. Well some day!
There was one teacher that attracted us. There were three or four, or, rather, one or two that we liked to look at because they were pretty; we liked to see them fluttering around, but they did not attract us as did this teacher. She came in in a great rush, an old hat on one side of her head. Old hat on the other side; then over one eye. Grabbing the old hat, slinging it away anywhere. Getting right down to business, enrolling the first years. We liked the way she made the other teachers skip around; we liked her good humor and her quickness to anger; there was sympathetic gentleness with firmness behind. Theatric in her ways, rolling her eyes, making astonishing faces. We liked everything about her. Near by there was a boy that knew all about the High School; his sister was a teacher; his knowledge made him important among us. A bell ringing; boy whispering what it meant. Someone looking into the room; boy whispering just what celebrity. We asked him who this teacher was, and he was very glad to tell us and all others around that she was Miss North, who knew everything that had ever been heard of, and taught elocution in hours after school.
And as Miss North attracted us, she seemed to notice us. For she sauntered down the aisle, singled us out, and took our hand without asking for it.
Sitting in the seat in front; getting a stronger grip on our hand; and then;
"Little boy, who are you? Who are you, serious-looking, little boy, with your great, big eyes, just like a great, big. solemn owl?" Awful faces made at us; eyes rolled at us; kindness and gentleness too. We wondered whether this were a little elocution for only unimportant us. We told her our name.
Miss North said, "Oh!" She dropped our hand. "Oh, you're one of those cherubs, are you?" She rose and sauntered away.
The boy that knew everything said, "Must know you. If you
[Pages 158 and 159 are missing.]
a bony part anyway." Waiting for an appreciat[iv]e laugh. Then saying sharply, "Do not be simply amused."
We were not simply amused; we were interested, and had little experiments of our own at home. We'd look at clouds; we'd think. Or we'd look at water power; we'd think. And there was a strain of doubting in our thinking. There was the theory that one sees things really upside down; does in infancy, but by experience turns around. Proved by lines and angles. We wanted to argue. Putting the supposition of a man blind from birth; operated upon, then able to see. Would he see things upside down? It seemed to us pretty poor science not to know; there must have been such cases. Professor Overbunk answered unsatisfactorily, we thought, but he seemed pleased again. Still, we accepted almost all truths, thought there did seem to be something wrong with about every experiment. Professor Overbunk demonstrating that in a vacuum a bullet and a feather fall with equal speed. The bullet falling first. Teaching us that black is the absence of color and white is all colors. Mixing colors. Producing a brownish gray. Putting a black cloth and a white cloth out in the sun on window sill snow. As black absorbs heat, the black cloth would sink in the snow. White cloth making a decided impression; black cloth showing not a trace that it had been there. Very hard to teach truths when truth won't come right.
Beginning our study of algebra, with the idea that letters are used
instead of numbers, wondering how much "a" time[s] "b"
could be. Learning definitions, learning that "x" is the unknown
quantity and that the little, top-knot numbers are exponents, having none
of the trouble we had expected, Miss Alberts sending us to the black board,
then forgetting all about us, reading Puck and Judge.
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