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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

The Hydraulic ran alongside of the Academy


The

Hydraulic ran alongside of the Academy, and at recess the boys had a good deal of fun with it, one way and another, sailing shingles with stones on them, and watching them go under one end of the culvert and come out of the other, or simply throwing rocks into the water. It does not seem very exciting when you tell of it, but it really was exciting; though it was not so exciting as to go down to the mills, where the Hydraulic plunged over that great wheel into the Miami. A foot-bridge crossed it that you could jump up and down on and almost make touch the water, and there were happier boys, who did not go to school, fishing there with men who had never gone. Sometimes the schoolboys ventured inside of the flour-mill and the iron-foundry, but I do not think this was often permitted; and, after all, the great thing was to rush over to the river-bank, all the boys and girls together, and play with the flutter-mills till the bell rang. The market-house was not far off, and they went there sometimes when it was not market-day, and played among the stalls; and once a girl caught her hand on a meat-hook. My boy had a vision of her hanging from it; but this was probably one of those grisly fancies that were always haunting him, and no fact at all. The bridge was close by the market-house, but for some reason or no reason the children never played in the bridge. Perhaps the toll-house man would not let them; my boy stood in dread of the toll-house man; he seemed to have such a severe way
of taking the money from the teamsters.

Some of the boys were said to be the beaux of some of the girls. My boy did not know what that meant; in his own mind he could not disentangle the idea of bows from the idea of arrows; but he was in love with the girl who caught her hand on the meat-hook, and secretly suffered much on account of her. She had black eyes, and her name long seemed to him the most beautiful name for a girl; he said it to himself with flushes from his ridiculous little heart. While he was still a boy of ten he heard that she was married; and she must have been a great deal older than he. In fact he was too small a boy when he went to the Academy to remember how long he went there, and whether it was months or years; but probably it was not more than a year. He stopped going there because the teacher gave up the school to become a New Church minister; and as my boy's father and mother were New Church people, there must have been some intimacy between them and the teacher, which he did not know of. But he only stood in awe, not terror, of him; and he was not surprised when he met him many long years after, to find him a man peculiarly wise, gentle, and kind. Between the young and the old there is a vast gulf, seldom if ever bridged. The old can look backward over it, but they cannot cross it, any more than the young, who can see no thither side.

The next school my boy went to was a district school, as they called a public school in the Boy's Town. He did not begin going there without something more than his usual fear and trembling; for he had heard free schools and


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