HOW JOHN QUIT THE FARM
BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
NOBODY on the old farm here but Mother, me and John,
Except, of course, the extry he'p when harvest-time come on--
And then, I want to say to you, we needed he'p about,
As you'd admit, ef you'd a-seen the way the crops turned out!
A better quarter-section, ner a richer soil warn't found
Than this-here old-home place o' ourn fer fifty miles around!--
The house was small--but plenty-big we found it from the day
That John--our only livin' son--packed up and went way.
You see, we tuck sich pride in John--his mother more 'n me--
That's natchurul; but both of us was proud as proud could be;
Fer the boy, from a little chap, was most oncommon bright,
And seemed in work as well as play to take the same delight.
He allus went a-whistlin' round the place, as glad at heart
As robins up at five o'clock to git an airly start;
And many a time 'fore daylight Mother's waked me up to say--
"Jest listen, David!--listen!--Johnny's beat the birds to-day!"
High-sperited from boyhood, with a most inquirin' turn,--
He wanted to learn ever'thing on earth they was to learn:
He'd ast more plaguey questions in a mortal-minute here
Than his grandpap in Paradise could answer in a year!
And read! w'y, his own mother learnt him how to read and spell;
And "The Childern of the Abbey"--w'y, he knowed that book as well
At fifteen as his parents!--and "The Pilgrim's Progress," too--
Jest knuckled down, the shaver did, and read 'em through and through!
At eighteen, Mother 'lowed the boy must have a better chance--
That we ort to educate him, under any circumstance;
And John he j'ined his mother, and they ding-donged and kep' on,
Tel I sent him off to school in town, half glad that he was gone.
But--I missed him--w'y, of course I did!--The Fall and Winter through
I never built the kitchen-fire, er split a stick in two,
Er fed the stock, er butchered, er swung up a gambrel-pin,
But what I thought o' John, and wished that he was home ag'in.
He'd come, sometimes--on Sund'ys most--and stay the Sund'y out;
And on Thanksgivin'-Day he 'peared to like to be about:
But a change was workin' on him--he was stiller than before,
And didn't joke, ner laugh, ner sing and whistle any more.
And his talk was all so proper; and I noticed, with a sigh,
He was tryin' to raise side-whiskers, and had on a striped tie,
And a standin'-collar, ironed up as stiff and slick as bone;
And a breast-pin, and a watch and chain and plug-hat of his own.
But when Spring-weather opened out, and John was to come home
And he'p me through the season, I was glad to see him come;
But my happiness, that evening, with the settin' sun went down,
When he bragged of "a position" that was offered him in town.
"But," says I, "you'll not accept it?" "W'y, of course I will," says he.--
"This drudgin' on a farm," he says, "is not the life fer me;
I've set my stakes up higher," he continued, light and gay,
"And town's the place fer me, and I'm a-goin' right away!"
And go he did!--his mother clingin' to him at the gate,
A-pleadin' and a-cryin'; but it hadn't any weight.
I was tranquiller, and told her 'twarn't no use to worry so,
And onclasped her arms from round his neck round mine--and let him go!
I felt a little bitter feelin' foolin' round about
The aidges of my conscience; but I didn't let it out;--
I simply retch out, trimbly-like, and tuk the boy's hand,
And though I didn't say a word, I knowed he'd understand.
And--well!--sence then the old home here was mighty lonesome, shore!
With me a-workin' in the field, and Mother at the door,
Her face ferever to'rds the town, and fadin' more and more--
Her only son nine miles away, a-clerkin' in a store!
The weeks and months dragged by us; and sometimes the boy would write
A letter to his mother, savin' that his work was light,
And not to feel oneasy about his health a bit--
Though his business was confinin', he was gittin' used to it.
And sometimes he would write and ast how I was gittin' on,
And ef I had to pay out much fer he'p sence he was gone;
And how the hogs was doin', and the balance of the stock,
And talk on fer a page er two jest like he used to talk.
And he wrote, along 'fore harvest, that he guessed he would git home,
Fer business would, of course, be dull in town.--But didn't come:--
We got a postal later, sayin' when they had no trade
They filled the time "invoicin' goods," and that was why he staid.
And then he quit a-writin' altogether: Not a word--
Exceptin' what the neighbors brung who'd been to town and heard
What store John was clerkin' in, and went round to inquire
If they could buy their goods there less and sell their produce higher.
And so the Summer faded out, and Autumn wore away,
And a keener Winter never fetched around Thanksgivin'-Day!
The night before that day of thanks I'll never quite fergit,
The wind a-howlin' round the house--it makes me creepy yit!
And there set me and Mother--me a-twistin' at the prongs
Of a green scrub-ellum forestick with a vicious pair of tongs,
And Mother sayin', "David! David!" in a' undertone,
As though she thought that I was thinkin' bad-words unbeknown.
"I've dressed the turkey, David, fer to-morrow," Mother said,
A-tryin' to wedge some pleasant subject in my stubborn head,--
"And the mince-meat I'm a-mixin' is perfection mighty nigh;
And the pound-cake is delicious-rich--" "Who'll eat 'em?" I-says-I.
"The cramberries is drippin'-sweet," says Mother, runnin' on,
P'tendin' not to hear me;--"and somehow I thought of John
All the time they was a-jellin'--fer you know they allus was
His favorite--he likes 'em so!" Says I, "Well, s'pose he does?"
"Oh, nothin' much!" says Mother, with a quiet sort o' smile--
"This gentleman behind my cheer may tell you after while!"
And as I turnt and looked around, some one riz up and leant
And put his arms round Mother's neck, and laughed in low content.
"It's me," he says--"your fool-boy John, come back to shake your hand;
Set down with you, and talk with you, and make you understand
How dearer yit than all the world is this old home that we
Will spend Thanksgivin' in fer life--jest Mother, you and me!"
* * * * * *
Nobody on the old farm here but Mother, me and John,
Except, of course, the extry he'p, when harvest-time comes on;
And then, I want to say to you, we need sich he'p about,
As you'd admit, ef you could see the way the crops turns out!