[As Told in 1880.]
Year of '71, children, middle of the fall,
On one fearful night, children, we well-nigh lost our all.
True, it wa'n't no great sum we had to lose that night,
But when a little's all you've got, it comes to a blessed sight.
I was a mighty worker, in them 'ere difficult days,
For work is a good investment, and almost always pays;
But when ten years' hard labor went smokin' into the air.
I doubted all o' the maxims, an' felt that it wasn't fair.
Up from the East we had traveled, with all of our household wares,
Where we had long been workin' a piece of land on shares;
But how a fellow's to prosper without the rise of the land,
For just two-thirds of nothin', I never could understand.
Up from the East we had traveled, me and my folks alone,
And quick we went to workin' a piece of land of our own;
Small was our backwoods quarters, and things looked mighty cheap;
But every thing we put in there, we put in there to keep.
So, with workin' and savin', we managed to get along;
Managed to make a livin', and feel consid'able strong;
And things went smooth and happy, an' fair as the average run,
Till every thing went back on me, in the fall of '71.
First thing bothered and worried me, was 'long o' my daughter Kate;
Rather a han'some cre'tur', and folks all liked her gait.
Not so nice as them sham ones in yeller-covered books;
But still there wa'n't much discount on Katherine's ways an' looks.
And Katherine's smile was pleasant, and Katherine's temper good,
And how she come to like Tom Smith, I never understood;
For she was a mornin'-glory, as fair as you ever see,
And Tom was a shag-bark hickory, as green as green could be.
"Like takes to like," is a proverb that's nothin' more than trash;
And many a time I've seen it all pulverized to smash.
For folks in no way sim'lar, I've noticed ag'in and ag'in,
Will often take to each other, and stick together like sin.
Next thing bothered and worried me, was 'long of a terrible drouth;
And me an' all o' my neighbors was some'at down in the mouth.
And week after week the rain held off, and things all pined an' dried,
And we drove the cattle miles to drink, and many of 'em died.
And day after day went by us, so han'some and so bright,
And never a drop of water came near us, day or night;
And what with the neighbors' grumblin', and what with my daily loss,
I must own that somehow or other I was gettin' mighty cross.
And on one Sunday evenin' I was comin' down the lane
From meetin', where our preacher had stuck and hung for rain,
And various slants on heaven kept workin' in my mind,
And the smoke from Sanders' fallow was makin' me almost blind;
I opened the door kind o' sudden, an' there my Katherine sat,
As cozy as any kitten along with a friendly cat;
An' Tom was dreadful near her--his arm on the back of her chair--
And lookin' as happy and cheerful as if there was rain to spare.
"Get out of this house in a minute!" I cried, with all my might:
"Get out, while I'm a-talkin'!"--Tom's eyes showed a bit of fight;
But he rose up, stiff and surly, and made me a civil bow,
And mogged along to the door-way, with never a word of row.
And I snapped up my wife quite surly when she asked me what I'd said,
And I scolded Kate for cryin', and sent her up stairs to bed;
And then I laid down, for the purpose of gettin' a little sleep,
An' the wind outside was a-howlin', and puttin' it in to keep.
'Twas half-past three next mornin', or maybe 'twas nearer four--
The neighbors they came a-yellin' and poundin' at my door;
"Get up! get up!" they shouted: "get up! there's danger near!
The woods are all a-burnin'! the wind is blowin' it here!"
If ever it happens, children, that you get catched, some time,
With fire a-blowin' toward you, as fast as fire can climb,
You'll get up and get in a hurry, as fast as you can budge;
It's a lively season of the year, or else I ain't no judge!
Out o' the dear old cabin we tumbled fast as we could--
Smashed two-thirds of our dishes, and saved some four-foot wood;
With smoke a-settlin' round us and gettin' into our eyes,
And fire a-roarin' an' roarin' an' drowndin' all of our cries.
And just as the roof was smokin', and we hadn't long to wait,
I says to my wife, "Now get out, and hustle, you and Kate!"
And just as the roof was fallin', my wife she come to me,
With a face as white as a corpse's face, and "Where is Kate?" says she.
And the neighbors come runnin' to me, with faces black as the ground,
And shouted, "Where is Katherine? She's nowhere to be found!"
An' this is all I remember, till I found myself next day,
A-lyin' in Sanders' cabin, a mile an' a half away.
If ever you wake up, children, with somethin' into your head,
Concernin' a han'some daughter, that's lyin' still an' dead,
All scorched into coal-black cinders--_perhaps_ you may not weep,
But I rather think it'll happen you'll wish you'd a-kept asleep.
And all I could say, was "Kath'rine, oh Kath'rine, come to me!"
And all I could think, was "Kath'rine!" and all that I could see,
Was Sanders a-standin' near to me, his finger into his eye,
And my wife a-bendin' over me, and tellin' me not to cry;
When, lo! Tom Smith he entered--his face lit up with grins
And Kate a-hangin' on his arm, as neat as a row of pins!
And Tom looked glad, but sheepish; and said, "Excuse me, Squire,
But I 'loped with Kate, and married her an hour before the fire."
Well, children, I was shattered; 'twas more than I could bear--
And I up and went for Kate an' Tom, and hugged 'em then and there!
And since that time, the times have changed, an' now they ain't so bad;
And--Katherine, she's your mother now, and--Thomas Smith's your dad.