AN EVENTFUL RETURN TRIP TO THE MISSOURI FARM
But I must get back to my story. I spent a couple of days in rest, then a friend took me to the academy, a two-story brick building most beautifully situated on a hill, commanding a view of the whole town. I was introduced to Mr. W. W. Crutchfield, the principal, a man of perhaps fifty years, and a graduate of the University of Virginia.
He was the finest scholar in Latin and Greek I have ever known, and also well versed in all branches of learning usually taught at that day, except perhaps the higher mathematics. I do not remember a single pupil in the school pursuing these studies. This suited me entirely, as I never had any desire for the higher mathematics, but a great and abiding love for languages and literature.
Mr. Crutchfield put me through a pretty stiff examination in reading, geography and English grammar. I was very much gratified and very agree-ably surprised with his report. I was put to work immediately in the study of Latin, natural and mental philosophy, with an hour or two a day in the higher English branches. I was happy in my surroundings and studied hard not only during school hours but at home also, and, as I had but few places to visit, my holidays were spent in special studies.
When vacation arrived in May, 1853, I found the funds that I had taken with me about exhausted. My grandfather did not seem to understand that I might need money and I was far too proud to ask for it. I knew my father had his hands full caring for the younger members of our family, and, while I knew he would help me, I could not for a moment think of calling on him for any assistance.
I had received a full year of schooling and deter-mined to return home and earn money for further study. I knew if I wrote home informing my family of my determination I would be ordered to remain where I was, and that money would be sent to keep me another year. Therefore I kept my intention entirely to myself until the last day of school.
I told my grandfather that as there was such a long vacation (some three months) I wished to go home, to which he readily consented. I had barely enough money to pay my way, if everything went well. During the year my parents had sold the farm and purchased a new one on the Meramec River, in Crawford County, two hundred miles south of our old home, and to me a terra incognita. I searched the map carefully and concluded that a town on the Mississippi River called Herculaneum would land me nearer home than any other point, so, packing my books and clothing in an old carpet bag, a friend took me in his buggy to a town eighteen miles distant, from which place there was a stage to Cincinnati. There was no public conveyance from Cynthiana or Paris or even Lexington. The freight was all hauled by teams and the few people who traveled went in their own conveyances, family carriages or on horseback. I think the place where I took the stage was called Leesburg, and I arrived in Cincinnati toward evening.
On inquiry I found that the regular passenger steamboat had gone the day before. The state of my finance forbidding my waiting for the next boat, I engaged passage on a freighter, which also carried a few passengers, about the only difference being that the freight boat was slower and stopped at every landing to take on or put off freight. However, I had all summer before me and as the boat furnished meals to passengers, it was cheaper, a considerable recommendation to me at that time. The slow trip down the Ohio to Cairo and up the Mississippi was full of interest.
On the eighth day, just after the noon meal, I was informed that we were approaching Herculaneum. I got my old carpet bag out and descended to the lower deck. On looking around I could see no town or wharf, only a shot tower on an overhanging bluff, and a low point of land jutting out into the river. The boat made for this low point, and without tieing up or entirely stopping, a gang plank was run out and I was hustled ashore, while the boat kept right on up the river. On looking at my surroundings, not a soul was in sight. On one side of me flowed the river, and on the other side of the spit of land on which I stood was a slough some hundred yards wide and apparently very deep. At the head of the point was a perpendicular bluff several hundred feet high. I was as effectually marooned as though I were on island in the middle of the ocean.
I sat down to consider the situation and if there was a possible way out. On the other side of the slough and under the bluff I observed several boats tied to the bank. I finally concluded that I could safely swim the hundred yards, borrow a boat, row back for my clothes and bag, and then somehow make my way up the bluff. I had just commenced stripping for the swim when a young man hailed me from the top of the cliff and when I had explained the situation, he .said for me to wait and that he would come down and row me over. In a short time he appeared. Loosening one of the boats he rowed over, and took me across. I found that there was a trail which I could not see from the other side, winding up to the top of the cliff. A few hundred yards back was a fine low-roofed old Southern house, which was the home of the young man. He took me in with him and introduced me to his father and mother, a married sister, and her two children. I was received with the old-time Southern hospitality and made to feel at home, as I seldom have felt in a strange family. They inquired who I was, where I was going, and expressed by their actions an interest in me that was pleasant, indeed. They told me it was fortunate that they had seen the boat, as one seldom landed there any more and there was no possible way from the landing, except by crossing the slough. However, I had an idea that I would have "found a way." I am sure I could have negotiated the swim, stolen a boat and gotten across. These people treated me as one of the family. We had an old-fashioned Southern Sunday dinner, (I believe I have not told the reader it was Sunday I landed), fried chicken, corn bread and all the good things the old darkey cook knew so well how to prepare.
The stage from St. Louis to Patosi passed on the road a quarter of a mile distant, at eleven o'clock the next morning, which would take me by evening to a small town about twenty miles from my home; so after a good breakfast, when the hour for the stage to pass had arrived, the whole family accompanied me to the road. They would not accept a cent for their hospitality and all they had done for me, but the reader may rest assured that I left my heartfelt thanks with this good, old, aristocratic family. It is sad to think that there are not many of their kind left in the world. It seems to me at this writing that all my life I have been fortunate enough always to find friends when in need. I do not know why it was. The only reason I can imagine is that I was always open and frank, and told the whole truth. Strangers never seemed to doubt me, and I have been led to conclude that nothing will carry one so far as an open, manly course of action.
Towards evening we reached the little mining hamlet to which I had been directed. There was a small hotel at which I remained over night. The next morning I was told that no conveyance could be had in the direction I wished to go, but at a store and postoffice called Fourch Arno, seven miles on my way, I would probably find teams from the Meramec that would take me near my home.
Bright and early I shouldered my bag, which, beside my clothing, contained all my books, and must have weighed fifty pounds. However, I started out and about ten o'clock A. M. reached the store. The owner said he knew my father very well as he came there (eighteen miles from his home) for supplies. He said he would gladly loan me his saddle horse, but his brother had taken it out and he did not know if he would be home before night. He added that if I would remain as his guest over night I could have the horse and welcome. I was so anxious to reach home that I did not feel like considering his kind proposition. I thanked him, and as two men were there with an ox team going twelve miles on my way, they offered me conveyance as far as they went. My bag was placed on the wagon. They asked me to ride, but as they both walked, I was too proud to accept, and preferred to walk with them. The way lay across a long pine ridge, with a gravelly soil, and the oxen were very slow. The day was warm, my feet were becoming blistered, but I kept up a bold front. At least I was getting along faster than if I was carrying my heavy bag.
When we arrived at the place where they turned off, I bade them good-bye, again shouldered my pack, and trudged on. I now commenced passing cabins of the settlers every few miles, as the soil became better, and when I stopped to inquire if I was on the right road, the good women would ask me in to rest a while, and bring me bread and fresh milk, which refreshed me for another effort.
I came next to a beautiful, clear stream, which I learned later was called Fourch Basil. (This country was settled first by the French, and the streams all had French names as "Fourch Arno," "Fourch Renault," "Fourch Basil," and so on. The word "Fourch" in French, I understand, has the same meaning as branch or creek.) I took off my shoes and socks and waded Fourch Basil, bathed my blistered feet in the clear, cold water, lay down on the bank and drank deeply, and felt better. A little farther on I stopped at a better house, with nice fields of young corn and wheat, in the creek bottoms. The people here were as kindly and hospitable as all the others, so I had my regular milk and was told that it was less than two miles to my destination, but these two miles were the longest I ever traveled. I was so thoroughly exhausted that I could only go a hundred or two yards until I would have to drop my pack and lie down by the roadside for a short time to rest. At last, just as the sun was sinking in the West, my home came in sight. None too soon, as I had walked twenty-five miles, the greater part of the way carrying fully fifty pounds.
I took the family by surprise, as they supposed I was back in Kentucky. Nevertheless I was received with open arms, and in a day or two, with a good constitution and youth, I had forgotten all my weariness.
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