by James Whitcomb Riley
For the sake of guilty conscience, and the heart that ticks the
Of the clockworks of my nature, I desire to say that I'm
A weak and sinful creature, as regards my daily walk
The last five years and better. It ain't worth while to talk--
I've been too mean to tell it! I've been so hard, you see,
And full of pride, and--onry--now there's the word for me--
Just onry--and to show you, I'll give my history
With vital points in question, and I think you'll all agree.
I was always stiff and stubborn since I could recollect,
And had an awful temper, and never would reflect;
And always into trouble--I remember once at school
The teacher tried to flog me, and I reversed that rule.
O I was bad I tell you! And it's a funny move
That a fellow wild as I was could ever fall in love;
And it's a funny notion that an animal like me,
Under a girl's weak fingers was as tame as tame could be!
But it's so, and sets me thinking of the easy way she had
Of cooling down my temper--though I'd be fighting mad.
"My Lion Queen" I called her--when a spell of mine occurred
She'd come in a den of feelings and quell them with a word.
I'll tell you how she loved me--and what her people thought:
When I asked to marry Annie they said "they reckoned not--
That I cut too many didoes and monkey-shines to suit
Their idea of a son-in-law, and I could go, to boot!"
I tell you that thing riled me! Why, I felt my face turn white,
And my teeth shut like a steel trap, and the fingers of my right
Hand pained me with their pressure--all the rest's a mystery
Till I heard my Annie saying--"I'm going, too, you see."
We were coming through the gateway, and she wavered for a spell
When she heard her mother crying and her raving father yell
That she wa'n't no child of his'n--like an actor in a play
We saw at Independence, coming through the other day.
Well! that's the way we started. And for days and weeks and
And even years we journeyed on, regretting never once
Of starting out together upon the path of life--
Akind o' sort o' husband, but a mighty loving wife,--
And the cutest little baby--little Grace--I see her now
A-standin' on the pig-pen as her mother milked the cow--
And I can hear her shouting--as I stood unloading straw,--
"I'm ain't as big as papa, but I'm biggerest'n ma."
Now folks that never married don't seem to understand
That a little baby's language is the sweetest ever planned--
Why, I tell you it's pure music, and I'll just go on to say
That I sometimes have a notion that the angels talk that way!
There's a chapter in this story I'd be happy to destroy;
I could burn it up before you with a mighty sight of joy;
But I'll go ahead and give it--not in detail, no, my friend,
For it takes five years of reading before you find the end.
My Annie's folks relented--at least, in some degree;
They sent one time for Annie, but they didn't send for me.
The old man wrote the message with a heart as hot and dry
As a furnace--"Annie Mullen, come and see your mother die."
I saw the slur intended--why I fancied I could see
The old man shoot the insult like a poison dart at me;
And in that heat of passion I swore an inward oath
That if Annie pleased her father she could never please us both.
I watched her--dark and sullen--as she hurried on her shawl;
I watched her--calm and cruel, though I saw her tear-drops fall;
I watched her--cold and heartless, though I heard her moaning,
For mercy from high Heaven--and I smiled throughout it all.
Why even when she kissed me, and her tears were on my brow,
As she murmured, "George, forgive me--I must go to mother now!"
Such hate there was within me that I answered not at all,
But calm, and cold and cruel, I smiled throughout it all.
But a shadow in the doorway caught my eye, and then the face
Full of innocence and sunshine of little baby Grace.
And I snatched her up and kissed her, and I softened through and
For a minute when she told me "I must kiss her muvver too."
I remember, at the starting, how I tried to freeze again
As I watched them slowly driving down the little crooked lane--
When Annie shouted something that ended in a cry,
And how I tried to whistle and it fizzled in a sigh.
I remember running after, with a glimmer in my sight--
Pretending I'd discovered that the traces wasn't right;
And the last that I remember, as they disappeared from view,
Was little Grace a-calling, "I see papa! Howdy-do!"
And left alone to ponder, I again took up my hate
For the old man who would chuckle that I was desolate;
And I mouthed my wrongs in mutters till my pride called up the
His last insult had given me--until I smiled again
Till the wild beast in my nature was raging in the den--
With no one now to quell it, and I wrote a letter then
Full of hissing things, and heated with so hot a heat of hate
That my pen flashed out black lightning at a most terrific rate.
I wrote that "she had wronged me when she went away from me--
Though to see her dying mother 'twas her father's victory,
And a woman that could waver when her husband's pride was rent
Was no longer worthy of it." And I shut the house and went.
To tell of my long exile would be of little good--
Though I couldn't half-way tell it, and I wouldn't if I could!
I could tell of California--of a wild and vicious life;
Of trackless plains, and mountains, and the Indian's
I could tell of gloomy forests howling wild with threats of
I could tell of fiery deserts that have scorched me with their
I could tell of wretched outcasts by the hundreds, great and
And could claim the nasty honor of the greatest of them all.
I could tell of toil and hardship; and of sickness and disease,
And hollow-eyed starvation, but I tell you, friend, that these
Are trifles in comparison with what a fellow feels
With that bloodhound, Remorsefulness, forever at his heels.
I remember--worn and weary of the long, long years of care,
When the frost of time was making early harvest of my hair--
I remember, wrecked and hopeless of a rest beneath the sky,
My resolve to quit the country, and to seek the East, and die.
I remember my long journey, like a dull, oppressive dream,
Across the empty prairies till I caught the distant gleam
Of a city in the beauty of its broad and shining stream
On whose bosom, flocked together, float the mighty swans of
I remember drifting with them till I found myself again
In the rush and roar and rattle of the engine and the train;
And when from my surroundings something spoke of child and wife,
It seemed the train was rumbling through a tunnel in my life.
Then I remember something--like a sudden burst of light--
That don't exactly tell it, but I couldn't tell it right--
A something clinging to me with its arms around my neck--
A little girl, for instance--or an angel, I expect--
For she kissed me, cried and called me "her dear papa," and I
My heart was pure virgin gold, and just about to melt--
And so it did--it melted in a mist of gleaming rain
When she took my hand and whispered, "My mama's on the train."
There's some things I can dwell on, and get off pretty well,
But the balance of this story I know I couldn't tell;
So I ain't going to try it, for to tell the reason why--
I'm so chicken-hearted lately I'd be certain 'most to cry.
Last updated January 14, 2019