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A Boy's Town by William Dean Howells

The grandfather was of a gloomy spirit


The

grandfather was of a gloomy spirit, but of a tender and loving heart, whose usual word with a child, when he caressed it, was "Poor thing, poor thing!" as if he could only pity it; and I have no doubt the father's religion was a true affliction to him. The children were taken to visit their grandmother every Sunday noon, and then the father and grandfather never failed to have it out about the New Church and the Old. I am afraid that the father would sometimes forget his own precepts, and tease a little; when the mother went with him she was sometimes troubled at the warmth with which the controversy raged. The grandmother seemed to be bored by it, and the boys, who cared nothing for salvation in the abstract, no matter how anxious they were about the main chance, certainly shared this feeling with her. She was a pale, little, large-eyed lady, who always wore a dress of Quakerish plainness, with a white kerchief crossed upon her breast; and her aquiline nose and jutting chin almost met. She was very good to the children and at these times she usually gave them some sugar-cakes, and sent them out in the yard, where there was a young Newfoundland dog, of loose morals and no religious ideas, who joined them in having fun, till the father came out and led them home. He would not have allowed them to play where it could have aggrieved any one, for a prime article of his religion was to respect the religious feelings of others, even when he thought them wrong. But he would not suffer
the children to get the notion that they were guilty of any deadly crime if they happened to come short of the conventional standard of piety. Once, when their grandfather reported to him that the boys had been seen throwing stones on Sunday at the body of a dog lodged on some drift in the river, he rebuked them for the indecorum, and then ended the matter, as he often did, by saying, "Boys, consider yourselves soundly thrashed."

I should be sorry if anything I have said should give the idea that their behavior was either fantastic or arrogant through their religion. It was simply a pervading influence; and I am sure that in the father and mother it dignified life, and freighted motive and action here with the significance of eternal fate. When the children were taught that in every thought and in every deed they were choosing their portion with the devils or the angels, and that God himself could not save them against themselves, it often went in and out of their minds, as such things must with children; but some impression remained and helped them to realize the serious responsibility they were under to their own after-selves. At the same time, the father, who loved a joke almost as much as he loved a truth, and who despised austerity as something owlish, set them the example of getting all the harmless fun they could out of experience. They had their laugh about nearly everything that was not essentially sacred; they were made to feel the ludicrous as an alleviation of existence; and the father and mother were with them on the same level in all this enjoyment.

The house was pretty full of children, big and little. There were seven of them in the Boy's Town, and eight afterwards in all; so that if there had been no Boy's Town about them, they would still have had a Boy's World indoors. They lived in three different houses--the


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