Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
The Old Man
By Eugene Field (18501895)
[A Little Book of Profitable Tales. 1889.]
I CALLED him the Old Man, but he wuznt an old man; he wuz a little boyour fust one; nd his granma, whod had a heap of experience in sich matters, allowed that he wuz for looks as likely a child as shed ever clapped eyes on. Bein our fust, we sot our hearts on him, and Lizzie named him Willie, for that wuz the name she liked best, havin had a brother Willyum killed in the war. But I never called him anything but the Old Man, and that name seemed to fit him, for he wuz one of your sollum babies,alwuz thinkin nd thinkin nd thinkin, like he wuz a jedge, and when he laffed it wuznt like other childrens laffs, it wuz so sad-like.
Lizzie nd I made it up between us that when the Old Man growed up wed send him to collige nd give him a libril edication, no matter though we had to sell the farm to do it. But we never cud exactly agree as to what we wuz goin to make of him; Lizzie havin her heart sot on his bein a preacher like his granpa Baker, and I wantin him to be a lawyer nd git rich outn the corporations, like his uncle Wilson Barlow. So we never come to no definite conclusion as to what the Old Man wuz goin to be bime by; but while we wuz thinkin nd debatin the Old Man kep growin nd growin, and all the time he wuz as serious nd sollum as a jedge.
Lizzie got jest wrapt up in that boy; toted him round everwhere nd never let on like it made her tired,powerful big nd hearty child too, but heft warnt nothin longside of Lizzies love for the Old Man. When he caught the measles from Sairy Baxters baby Lizzie sot up day nd night till he wuz well, holdin his hands nd singin songs to him, nd cryin hersef almost to death because she dassent give him cold water to drink when he called fr it. As for me, my heart wuz wrapt up in the Old Man, too, but, bein a man, it wuznt for me to show it like Lizzie, bein a woman; and now that the Old Man iswall, now that he has gone, it wouldnt do to let on how much I sot by him, for that would make Lizzie feel all the wuss.
Sometimes, when I think of it, it makes me sorry that I didnt show the Old Man some way how much I wuz wrapt up in him. Used to hold him in my lap nd make faces for him nd alder whistles nd things; sometimes Id kiss him on his rosy cheek, when nobody wuz lookin; oncet I tried to sing him a song, but it made him cry, nd I never tried my hand at singin again. But, somehow, the Old Man didnt take to me like he took to his mother: would climb down outern my lap to git where Lizzie wuz; would hang on to her gownd, no matter what she wuz doin,whether she wuz makin bread, or sewin, or puttin up pickles, it wuz alwuz the same to the Old Man; he wuznt happy unless he wuz right there, clost beside his mother.
Most all boys, as Ive heern tell, is proud to be round with their father, doin what he does nd wearin the kind of clothes he wears. But the Old Man wuz diffrent; he allowed that his mother wuz his best friend, nd the way he stuck to herwall, it has alwuz been a great comfort to Lizzie to recollect it.
The Old Man had a kind of confidin way with his mother. Every oncet in a while, when hed be playin by hisself in the front room, hed call out, Mudder, mudder; and no matter where Lizzie wuz,in the kitchen, or in the wood-shed, or in the yard, shed answer: What is it, darlin? Then the Old Man ud say: Tum here, mudder, I wanter tell you sumfin. Never could find out what the Old Man wanted to tell Lizzie; likes not he didnt wanter tell her nothin; may be he wuz lonesome nd jest wanted to feel that Lizzie wuz round. But that didnt make no diffrence; it wuz all the same to Lizzie. No matter where she wuz or what she wuz a-doin, jest as soon as the Old Man told her he wanted to tell her somethin she dropped everthing else nd went straight to him. Then the Old Man would laff one of his sollum, sad-like laffs, nd put his arms round Lizzies neck nd whisperor pertend to whispersomethin in her ear, nd Lizzie would laff nd say, Oh, what a nice secret we have atween us! and then she would kiss the Old Man nd go back to her work.
Time changes all things,all things but memory, nothin can change that. Seems like it wuz only yesterday or the day before that I heern the Old Man callin, Mudder, mudder, I wanter tell you sumfin, and that I seen him put his arms around her neck nd whisper softly to her.
It had been an open winter, nd there wuz fever all around us. The Baxters lost their little girl, and Homer Thompsons children had all been taken down. Evry night nd mornin we prayed God to save our darlin; but one evenin when I come up from the wood lot, the Old Man wuz restless nd his face wuz hot nd he talked in his sleep. May be youve been through it yourself,may be youve tended a child thats down with the fever; if so, may be you know what we went through, Lizzie nd me. The doctor shook his head one night when he come to see the Old Man; we knew what that meant. I went out-doors,I couldnt stand it in the room there, with the Old Man seein nd talkin about things that the fever made him see. I wuz too big a coward to stay nd help his mother to bear up; so I went out-doors nd brung in wood,brung in wood enough to last all spring,and then I sat down alone by the kitchen fire nd heard the clock tick nd watched the shadders flicker through the room.
I remember Lizzies comin to me and sayin: Hes breathin strange-like, nd his little feet is cold as ice. Then I went into the front chamber where he lay. The day wuz breakin; the cattle wuz lowin outside; a beam of light come through the winder and fell on the Old Mans face,perhaps it was the summons for which he waited and which shall sometime come to me nd you. Leastwise the Old Man roused from his sleep nd opened up his big blue eyes. It wuznt me he wanted to see.