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The Man Without a Country, and Other Tales By Edward Everett Hale Characters: 8700

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

New-Yorkers of to-day see so many processions, and live through so many sensations, and hurrah for so many heroes in every year, that it is only the oldest of fogies who tells you of the triumphant procession of steamboats which, in the year 1824, welcomed General Lafayette on his arrival from his tour through the country he had so nobly served. [pg 207]

But, if the reader wishes to lengthen out this story he may button the next silver-gray friend he meets, and ask him to tell of the broken English and broken French of the Marquis, of Levasseur, and the rest of them; of the enthusiasm of the people and the readiness of the visitors, and he will please bear in mind that of all that am I.

For it so happened that on the morning when, for want of better lions to show, the mayor and governor and the rest of them took the Marquis and his secretary, and the rest of them, to see the orphan asylum in Deering Street,-as they passed into the first ward, after having had "a little refreshment" in the managers' room, Sally Eaton, the head nurse, dropped the first courtesy to them, and Sally Eaton, as it happened, held me screaming in her arms. I had been sent to the asylum that morning with a paper pinned to my bib, which said my name was Felix Carter.

"Eet ees verra fine," said the Marquis, smiling blandly.

"Ràvissant!" said Levasseur, and he dropped a five-franc piece into Sally Eaton's hand. And so the procession of exhibiting managers talking bad French, and of exhibited Frenchmen talking bad English, passed on; all but good old Elkanah Ogden-God bless him!-who happened to have come there with the governor's party, and who loitered a minute to talk with Sally Eaton about me.

Years afterwards she told me how the old man [pg 208] kissed me, how his eyes watered when he asked my story, how she told again of the moment when I was heard screaming on the doorstep, and how she offered to go and bring the paper which had been pinned to my bib. But the old man said it was no matter,-"only we would have called him Marquis," said he, "if his name was not provided for him. We must not leave him here," he said; "he shall grow up a farmer's lad, and not a little cockney." And so, instead of going the grand round of infirmaries, kitchens, bakeries, and dormitories with the rest, the good old soul went back into the managers' room, and wrote at the moment a letter to John Myers, who took care of his wild land in St. Lawrence County for him, to ask him if Mrs. Myers would not bring up an orphan baby by hand for him; and if, both together, they would not train this baby till he said "stop"; if, on the other hand, he allowed them, in the yearly account, a hundred dollars each year for the charge.

Anybody who knows how far a hundred dollars goes in the backwoods, in St. Lawrence County, will know that any settler would be glad to take a ward so recommended. Anybody who knew Betsy Myers as well as old Elkanah Ogden did, would know she would have taken any orphan brought to her door, even if he were not recommended at all.

So it happened, thanks to Lafayette and the city council! that I had not been a "Child of the Public" [pg 209] a day, before, in its great, clumsy, liberal way, it had provided for me. I owed my healthy, happy home of the next fourteen years in the wilderness to those marvellous habits, which I should else call absurd, with which we lionize strangers. Because our hospitals and poorhouses are the largest buildings we have, we entertain the Prince of Wales and Jenny Lind alike, by showing them crazy people and paupers. Easy enough to laugh at is the display; but if, dear Public, it happen, that by such a habit you ventilate your Bridewell or your Bedlam, is not the ventilation, perhaps, a compensation for the absurdity? I do not know if Lafayette was any the better for his seeing the Deering Street Asylum; but I do know I was.

This is no history of my life. It is only an illustration of one of its principles. I have no anecdotes of wilderness life to tell, and no sketch of the lovely rugged traits of John and Betsy Myers,-my real father and mother. I have no quest for the pretended parents, who threw me away in my babyhood, to record. They closed accounts with me when they left me on the asylum steps, and I with them. I grew up with such schooling as the publi

c gave,-ten weeks in winter always, and ten in summer, till I was big enough to work on the farm,-better periods of schools, I hold, than on the modern systems. Mr. Ogden I never saw. Regularly he allowed for me the hundred a year till I was nine years old, and then suddenly he died, as the reader perhaps knows. But John Myers [pg 210] kept me as his son, none the less. I knew no change until, when I was fourteen, he thought it time for me to see the world, and sent me to what, in those days, was called a "Manual-Labor School."

There was a theory coming up in those days, wholly unfounded in physiology, that if a man worked five hours with his hands, he could study better in the next five. It is all nonsense. Exhaustion is exhaustion; and if you exhaust a vessel by one stopcock, nothing is gained or saved by closing that and opening another. The old up-country theory is the true one. Study ten weeks and chop wood fifteen; study ten more and harvest fifteen. But the "Manual-Labor School" offered itself for really no pay, only John Myers and I carried over, I remember, a dozen barrels of potatoes when I went there with my books. The school was kept at Roscius, and if I would work in the carpenter's shop and on the school farm five hours, why they would feed me and teach me all they knew in what I had of the day beside.

"Felix," said John, as he left me, "I do not suppose this is the best school in the world, unless you make it so. But I do suppose you can make it so. If you and I went whining about, looking for the best school in the world, and for somebody to pay your way through it, I should die, and you would lose your voice with whining, and we should not find one after all. This is what the public happens to provide for you and me. We won't look a gift-horse in the [pg 211] mouth. Get on his back, Felix; groom him well as you can when you stop, feed him when you can, and at all events water him well and take care of him well. My last advice to you, Felix, is to take what is offered you, and never complain because nobody offers more."

Those words are to be cut on my seal-ring, if I ever have one, and if Dr. Anthon or Professor Webster will put them into short enough Latin for me. That is the motto of the "Children of the Public."

John Myers died before that term was out. And my more than mother, Betsy, went back to her friends in Maine. After the funeral I never saw them more. How I lived from that moment to what Fausta and I call the Crisis is nobody's concern. I worked in the shop at the school, or on the farm. Afterwards I taught school in neighboring districts. I never bought a ticket in a lottery or a raffle. But whenever there was a chance to do an honest stroke of work, I did it. I have walked fifteen miles at night to carry an election return to the Tribune's agent at Gouverneur. I have turned out in the snow to break open the road when the supervisor could not find another man in the township.

When Sartain started his magazine, I wrote an essay in competition for his premiums, and the essay earned its hundred dollars. When the managers of the "Orphan Home," in Baltimore, offered their prizes for papers on bad boys, I wrote for one of them, [pg 212] and that helped me on four hard months. There was no luck in those things. I needed the money, and I put my hook into the pork-barrel,-that is, I trusted the Public. I never had but one stroke of luck in my life. I wanted a new pair of boots badly. I was going to walk to Albany, to work in the State library on the history of the Six Nations, which had an interest for me. I did not have a dollar. Just then there passed Congress the bill dividing the surplus revenue. The State of New York received two or three millions, and divided it among the counties. The county of St. Lawrence divided it among the townships, and the township of Roscius divided it among the voters. Two dollars and sixty cents of Uncle Sam's money came to me, and with that money on my feet I walked to Albany. That I call luck! How many fools had to assent in an absurdity before I could study the history of the Six Nations!

But one instance told in detail is better than a thousand told in general, for the illustration of a principle. So I will detain you no longer from the history of what Fausta and I call


[pg 213]

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