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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

Except here and there a pawpaw thicket


When

he became an old story, and there was no competition for him among the brothers, my boy sometimes took him into the woods, and rode him in the wandering bridle-paths, with a thrilling sense of adventure. He did not like to be alone there, and he oftener had the company of a boy who was learning the trade in his father's printing-office. This boy was just between him and his elder brother in age, and he was the good comrade of both; all the family loved him, and made him one of them, and my boy was fond of him because they had some tastes in common that were not very common among the other boys. They liked the same books, and they both began to write historical romances. My boy's romance was founded on facts of the Conquest of Granada, which he had read of again and again in Washington Irving, with a passionate pity for the Moors, and yet with pride in the grave and noble Spaniards. He would have given almost anything to be a Spaniard, and he lived in a dream of some day sallying out upon the Vega before Granada, in silk and steel, with an Arabian charger under him that champed its bit. In the meantime he did what he could with the family pony, and he had long rides in the woods with the other boy, who used to get his father's horse when he was not using it on Sunday, and race with him through the dangling wild grape-vines and pawpaw thickets, and over the reedy levels of the river, their hearts both bounding with the same high hopes of a world that could never come true.

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XIII.

GUNS AND GUNNING.

ALL round the Boy's Town stood the forest, with the trees that must have been well grown when Mad Anthony Wayne drove the Indians from their shadow forever. The white people had hewn space for their streets and houses, for their fields and farmsteads, out of the woods, but where the woods had been left they were of immemorial age. They were not very dense, and the timber was not very heavy; the trees stood more like trees in a park than trees in a forest; there was little or no undergrowth, except here and there a pawpaw thicket; and there were sometimes grassy spaces between them, where the may-apples pitched their pretty tents in the spring. Perhaps, at no very great distance of time, it had been a prairie country, with those wide savannahs of waving grass that took the eyes of the first-comers in the Ohio wilderness with an image of Nature long tamed to the hand of man. But this is merely my conjecture, and what I know does not bear me out in it; for the wall of forest that enclosed the Boy's Town was without a break except where the axe had made it. At some points it was nearer and at some farther; but, nearer or farther, the forest encompassed the town, and it called the boys born within its circuit, as the sea calls the boys born by its shore, with mysterious, alluring voices, kindling the blood, taking the soul with love for its strangeness. There was not a boy in the Boy's Town who would not gladly have turned from the town and lived in the woods if his mother had let him; and in every vague plan of running off the forest had its place as a city of refuge from pursuit and recapture. The pioneer days were still so close to those times that the love of solitary adventure which took the boys' fathers into the sylvan wastes of the great West might well have burned in the boys' hearts; and if their ideal of life was the free life of the woods, no doubt it was because their near ancestors had lived it. At any rate, that was their ideal, and they were always talking among themselves of how they would go farther West when they grew up, and be trappers and hunters. I do not remember any boy but one who meant to be a sailor; they lived too hopelessly far from the sea; and I dare say the boy who invented the marine-engine governor, and who wished to be a pirate, would just as soon have been a bandit of the Osage. In those days Oregon had just been opened to settlers, and the boys all wanted to go and live in Oregon, where you could stand in your door and shoot deer and wild turkey, while a salmon big enough to pull you in was tugging away at the line you had set in the river that ran before the log-cabin.


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