"You chump," I thought contemptuously. I was seven years old at the
time, and the gentleman to whom I referred was Henry Ward Beecher. What
it was that aroused my contempt for the man will be more fully
understood if I tell first of the grudge that I bore him.
I was sitting in my mother's pew in the old church in Brooklyn. I was
altogether too small for the pew, it was much too wide for the bend at
my knees; and my legs, which were very short and fat, stuck straight out
before me. I was not allowed to move, I was most uncomfortable, and for
this Sabbath torture I laid all the blame on the preacher. For my mother
had once told me that I was brought to church so small in order that
when I grew up I could say I had heard the great man preach before he
died. Hence the deep grudge that I bore him. Sitting here this morning,
it seemed to me for hours and hours, I had been meditating upon my hard
lot. From time to time, as was my habit when thinking or feeling deeply,
one hand would unconsciously go to my head and slowly stroke my bang. My
hair was short and had no curls, its only glory was this bang, which was
deliciously soft to my hand and shone like a mirror from much reflective
stroking. Presently my mother would notice and with a smile she would
put down my hand, but a few moments later up it would come and would
continue its stroking. For I felt both abused and puzzled. What was
there in the talk of the large white-haired old man in the pulpit to
make my mother's eyes so queer, to make her sit so stiff and still? What
good would it do me when I grew up to say that I had heard him?
"I don't believe I will ever say it," I reasoned doggedly to myself.
"And even if I do, I don't believe any other man will care whether I say
it to him or not." I felt sure my father wouldn't. He never even came to
At the thought of my strange silent father, my mind leaped to his
warehouse, his dock, the ships and the harbor. Like him, they were all
so strange. And my hands grew a little cold and moist as I thought of
the terribly risky thing I had planned to do all by myself that very
afternoon. I thought about it for a long time with my eyes tight shut.
Then the voice of the minister brought me back, I found myself sitting
here in church and went on with this less shivery thinking.
"I wouldn't care myself," I decided. "If I were a man and another man
met me on the street and said, 'Look here. When I was a boy I heard
Henry Ward Beecher before he died,' I guess I would just say to him,
'You mind your business and I'll mind mine.'" This phrase I had heard
from the corner grocer, and I liked the sound of it. I repeated it now
with an added zest.
Again I opened my eyes and again I found myself here in church. Still
here. I heaved a weary sigh.
"If you were dead already," I thought as I looked up at the preacher,
"my mother wouldn't bring me here." I found this an exceedingly cheering
thought. I had once overheard our cook Anny describe how her old father
had dropped dead. I eyed the old minister hopefully.
But what was this he was saying! Something about "the harbor of life."
The harbor! In an instant I was listening hard, for this was something I
"Safe into the harbor," I heard him say. "Home to the harbor at last to
rest." And then, while he passed on to something else, something I
_didn't_ know about, I settled disgustedly back in the pew.
"You chump," I thought contemptuously. To hear him talk you would have
thought the harbor was a place to feel quite safe in, a place to snuggle
down in, a nice little place to come home to at night. "I guess he has
never seen it much," I snorted.