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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

The garret abounded in their own family boxes and barrels


As when something dreadful happens, this seemed not to have happened; but a lovely experience leaves a sense of enduring fact behind, and remains a rich possession no matter how slight and simple it was. My boy's mother has been dead almost a quarter of a century, but as one of the elder children he knew her when she was young and gay; and his last distinct association with the Smith house is of coming home with her after a visit to her mother's far up the Ohio River. In their absence the June grass, which the children's feet always kept trampled down so low, had flourished up in purple blossom, and now stood rank and tall; and the mother threw herself on her knees in it, and tossed and frolicked with her little ones like a girl. The picture remains, and the wonder of the world in which it was true once, while all the phantasmagory of spectres has long vanished away.

The boy could not recall the family's removal to the Falconer house. They were not there, and then they were there. It was a brick house, at a corner of the principal street, and in the gable there were places for mock-windows where there had never been blinds put, but where the swallows had thickly built their nests. I dare say my boy might have been willing to stone these nests, but he was not allowed, either he or his mates, who must have panted with him to improve such an opportunity of havoc. There was a real window in the gable from which he could look out of the garret; such a garret as every boy should once have the use of some time in his life. It was dim and low, though it seemed high, and the naked brown rafters were studded with wasps' nests; and the rain beat on the shingles overhead. The house had been occupied by a physician, and under the eaves the children found heaps of phials full of doctor's stuff; the garret abounded in their own family boxes and barrels, but there was always room for a swing, which the boys used in training for their circuses. Below the garret there were two unimportant stories with chambers, dining-room, parlor, and so on; then you came to the brick-paved kitchen in the basement, and a perfectly glorious cellar, with rats in it. Outside there was a large yard, with five or six huge old cherry-trees, and a garden plot, where every spring my boy tried to make a garden, with never-failing failure.

The house gave even to him a sense of space unknown before, and he could recall his mother's satisfaction in it. He has often been back there in dreams, and found it on the old scale of grandeur; but no doubt it was a very simple affair. The fortunes of a Whig editor in a place so overwhelmingly democratic as the Boy's Town were not such as could have warranted his living in a palace; and he must have been poor, as the world goes now. But the family always lived in abundance, and in their way they belonged to the employing class; that is, the father had men to work for him. On the other hand, he worked with them; and the boys, as they grew old enough, were taught to work with them, too. My boy grew old enough very young; and was put to use in the printing-office before he was ten years of age. This was not altogether because he was needed there, I dare say, but because it was part of his father's Swedenborgian philosophy that every one should fulfil a use; I do not know that when the boy wanted to go swimming, or hunting, or skating, it consoled him much to reflect that the angels in the highest heaven delighted in uses; nevertheless, it was good for him to be of use, though maybe not so much use.

If his mother did her own work, with help only now and then from a hired girl, that was the custom of


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