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ONE evening in June, I was sitting on a bench contemplating the growth of the vegetable garden, the astonishing developments of the pigweed in the field, and the inferiority of our neighbor's crops, when I was approached by a friend from the country, the successful manager of a productive and extensive farm, and my prospective membership in the Grange was solicited. Perhaps I am in error to say that he requested me to apply for admission to the organization, for in fact he so managed the conversation that I was the actual suppliant.
The Grange in our state is a most powerful and extensive organization, probably having as many members, as much enthusiasm, and fully as many enjoyable festivals as any other organization, and it is certainly a privilege to belong to it; and so, when it was casually intimated that my ownership of so extensive a farm as my two-acre patch appeared to be might qualify me for admission into that society, I was at once interested. I was a little proud of my success as an amateur farmer, although I did not care much about estimating the cost of my garden and my other farm property. It was also' suggested by this friend that the Grange exercised a most powerful political influence, and that any one desiring political preferment could do no better than to apply for admission. I replied that I had no political ambition whatever; that I preferred to be a plain and unobtrusive farmer, and live a life as near to the soil as is compatible with the life of a country attorney.
I was, however, prepared to follow any method to compass my ambition to become a member of the Grange, and when I asked what the requisites were for admission, I was informed that good character, and ability to pay dues and to perform manual labor in farm-work were the chief requisites. As I had never been detected in any offense that would subject me to the criminal laws of the state, and as my moral character was not sufficiently stained to endanger my prospects, I was informed by my friend that these two requisites would pass muster; but that I must show by actual demonstration that I was able to do at least one day's farm-work, and my friend admitted that he had some doubts on that subject.
On professing my willingness to try to follow him in a day's work, he suggested that if I would come to his house the next morning, prepared to begin work at his usual hour and work all day with him in the corn-field without "blenching from the helm," he would recommend my admission, and after complimenting me on the excellency of my garden patch, satirically remarking that we were "goin' t' hey a powerful crap er pigweed," he went his way.
The next morning I was up at three o'clock, fed Polly, put on a suit of brown overalls with jersey, a pair of stout shoes, and an old felt hat. At half-past three I had fed and saddled that animal, and with hoe in hand prepared to mount.
Now, Polly is an extremely nervous animal and somewhat aristocratic in her taste, and she strongly objected to being mounted by any one dressed as I was. She was also deeply apprehensive that I was intending to give her a "bat" with that hoe; consequently when I approached to mount her she backed away, wheeled, and despite my utmost efforts, would not remain still long enough for me to get foot in the stirrup. Finally, after leaning the hoe up against a tree and backing her into a corner I managed to mount. I then approached the tree by devious ways, and not without great difficulty succeeded in getting near enough to grasp the hoe, when she bolted.
Down Front Street she went like lightning, narrowly escaping shipwreck in rounding a corner that so many years before had proved disastrous to me when as a boy we raced the minister. As I went over Great Bridge, white-robed figures leaned from the windows, evidently thinking that either Paul Revere or the headless horseman was once more on the war-path.
By the mile stretch on Hampton Road we swept like a simoom, when, as my flying steed was somewhat winded, I pulled her to half-speed and turned down the long hill leading to Kensington.
Although the distance was about four miles from my house, I did the same in what I believe to be record time, and arrived astride my foaming charger and still clinging to the hoe which had been the chief cause of her mad flight.
I aroused my farmer friend from his beauty sleep, much to his disgust, and after breakfasting with him went to the corn-field and there wrought manfully throughout the day. Although I had the advantage of my friend in many ways, he being a small man and fully twice my age, yet I was put to great straits to keep up with him, and when supper-time came was tremendously fagged. After supper, when I was contemplating a leisurely and pleasant ride home, a terrific thunder-storm came up, and I dashed home in the alternating glare and blackness of a summer storm in somewhat less time than I went over. My load, however, was lighter, for I thought both hands would be fully occupied in restraining my uncertain steed and preserving my balance. The next day I was in a condition of stiffness quite impossible to describe, but a few days later it wore off, and I was notified by my friend that my application for admission to the Grange had been favorably received and acted upon, and that I was to present myself for initiation at a certain date. I would be violating the secrecy enjoined on me by the rules of the organization to say anything about the initiation. It is sufficient to say that I passed it and lived.
I felt greatly honored a short time afterwards, and after attending one or two meetings, at being notified to deliver an address before the meeting of the Pomona Grange, which was to be held in our town in about a week after my invitation to speak. To say that I jumped at the chance would be expressing it feebly. Invitations to speak in public were quite rare in my life, and the only speeches that I had made were arguments before juries, judges, or referees, in matters pertaining to my profession, and these, I might say in passing, were not sufficiently numerous to mark me among successful advocates; and so for a week I neglected my family, my farm, and my office, while composing an address of marked excellence, and calculated to make my position as a member of the Grange solid.
The exercises were to be held in a large hall at two o'clock in the afternoon, and the oration and collation were to be preceded by a business meeting. Shortly after two o'clock I arrived at the hall, attempted to enter, and finding the door fastened, announced my presence by a sounding knock. In reply I heard some one from within informing those present that an alarm was made at the outer court, or words to that effect.
I imagined that orders were given from within by those in authority to ascertain the reasons for the alarm, and to be prepared to repel any unauthorized ruffian who might attempt to enter the sacred precincts of the Grange Hall. I felt assured that such was the case when the door opened and the largest man I had ever beheld appeared on the threshold and hoarsely inquired what my purpose was.
I shrank perceptibly before this dignified and powerful individual, and informed him with much humility that I wanted to come in. He in return demanded the pass-word, and in my confusion I was utterly unable to give it. I informed him timidly that I had forgotten the pass-word, but if he would kindly furnish me with one I would immediately return it.
In reply he laid his hand in a wholly fraternal manner upon my shoulder, called me brother, opened the door, and to my great confusion, marched me the length of the hall, between rows of staring men and curious women, to the platform, where I was confronted by a small but imposing gentleman who sat at a desk, clad in the official regalia of the Order and surrounded by other officials of equal gorgeousness, whereupon the large gentleman made the following address: "Most Worshipful" something or other, I have forgotten what, "I present to your official notice this young man, whom I have cause to believe and do believe is a worthy member of this most worthy organization, but who, unfortunately, has been so unmindful of his duty as not to have furnished himself with the requisites for admission, or, in other words, does not know the pass-word. What are your distinguished wishes in relation to the case?"
"Most Worthy" something or other, it would be a violation of the rules of the Order to say just what, "you may remove the alleged worthy member to the waiting-room, and inform him, should he adduce sufficient proof to you of his membership in this order, of the pass-word, that when the necessary and important business of this meeting is finished he will then be readmitted."
During this exchange of weighty civilities I had been growing hot and cold by turns, as I was naturally of a modest disposition and was greatly embarrassed at my undue prominence and by the curious and amused glances of several hundred "fair women and brave men"; and so when I was conducted stumblingly to the ante-room, and was about to be subjected to a searching inquiry, I excused myself for a moment, and struck out for home; and, as far as I know, that organization is still awaiting my return and the delivery of that famous speech.