The Good-Natured Pendulum

AN old clock, which stood in the corner of Parson Whipple’s schoolroom, suddenly began to tick twice as fast as usual. It did so for two or four hours, according as you counted time by its beats or by an hour-glass. Then it ticked for the remainder of its life at apparently the same rate as usual. This was never a discontented pendulum ; and on that day, Singleton and I, who were the only boys in its counsels, thought it was very good-natured.

But I do not pretend it was right. Have I said it was right for the pendulum to tick so ? I have not said it. I have only said that it was good-natured in the pendulum to tick twice as fast as usual, when it simply knew that I wished it to do so. I am not holding up the pendulum as an example for other pendulums, or for readers of the Atlantic. I wish people would not be so eager in their lookout for morals. I have not even said that the pendulum is the hero of this story. I have onlysaid that it was good-natured, and that, as before, it ticked as I then said. Having simply said that, and hardly said even that, I am attacked with this question, whether my story is moral or not, whether the pendulum did right or not; and you tell me coolly that you do not know whether you will take the magazine another year, if the conduct of such pendulums is approved in it. Once and again, then, although I was then responsible for what the pendulum did, I assert that I am not now responsible for it. I was then fourteen, and am now hard on fifty-six, so I must have changed atomically six times since then. I reject responsibility for all my acts at Parson Whipple’s. I do not justify the pendulum, I do not justify myself, far less do I justify Singleton. I only say it was a good-natured pendulum.

It happened thus: —

We were all to go after chestnuts, and we had made immense preparation, the old dominie not unwilling. We had sewed up into many bags some old bed-tick, dear, kind Miss Tryphosa had given us ; we had coaxed Clapp’s cousin Perkins,—son of Matthew Perkins third, of the old black Perkins blood, — we had coaxed him into getting the black mare for us from his father. Clapp was to harness him, and we were to have the school wagon to bring our spoils home. We had laid in with the Varnum boys to meet us at the crossroads in the hollow; and, in short, we were to give the trees such a belaboring as chestnut-trees had not known in many years. For all this we had the grant of a half-holiday; we had by great luck a capital sharp frost on Tuesday, we had everything but — time.

Red Jacket would have told us we had all the time there was, and, if Mr. Emerson had come along, he might have enforced the lesson. But he was elsewhere just then, and the trouble with us was, that, having all the time there was, we wanted more. And no hard bestead conductor on a single-track road, eager to “ make the time ” which he must have to reach the predestined switch in season, ever questioned and entreated his engineer more volubly than we assailed each other as to how we could make the short afternoon answer for the gigantic purposes of this expedition. You see there is a compensation in all things. If you have ever gone after chestnuts, you have found out that the sun sets mighty near five o’clock when you come to the 20th of October; and if you don’t get through school till one, and then must all have dinner, I tell you it is very hard to start fourteen boys after dinner, and drive the wagon, and walk the boys down to the Hollow, and then meet the Varnums and drive up that rough road to Clapp’s grandmother’s, and then take down the bars and lead the horse in through the pasture to where we meant to tie him in the edge of the hemlock second-growth, and then, to carry the bags across the stream, and so work up on the hill where the best trees are ; — I say it is very hard to do all that and come out on the road again and on the way home before dark. And if you think it is easy to do it in three hours and a half, I wish you would try. All is, I will not give sixteen cents for all the chestnuts you get in that way.

So, as I said, we wanted to make the time. Well, dear Miss Tryphosa said that she would put dinner at twelve, if we liked, and if we could coax the dominie to let us out of school then. So we asked Hackmatack to ask him, and Hackmatack did not dare to, but he coaxed Sarah Clavers to ask him. The old man loved Sarah Clavers, as everybody did. She was a sweet little thing, and she did her best! Old man. I call him ! That was the way we talked. Let me see, he graduated in 1811, — I guess he was in Everett’s class and Frothingham’s. The “old man,” as we called him, must have been thirtyseven years old then, — nineteen years younger than I am to-day. Old man indeed!

Well, little Sarah did her prettiest. But the old man —there it is again — kissed her, and stroked her face, and said he had given the school a half-holiday, and he thought his duties to the parents forbade his giving any more. And when little Sarah tried again, all he would say was, that, if we would get up early and be dressed when the first bell rang, we might “go in ’ to school at eight instead of nine. Then school could be done at twelve, — Miss Tryphosa might do as she chose about dinner, but, if she chose, we might be off before one. This was something, and we made the most of it.

Still we wished we could make a little more time. And as it was ordered,— wisely, I have no doubt,—though,as I said, I do not pretend to justify the use we made of the order,—as it was ordered,— that very Tuesday afternoon, when we were all at work in the schoolroom, Brereton— that Southern boy, you know—was reciting in “ Scientific Dialogues” to the Parson. I think it must have been “ Scientific Dialogues,” but I am not sure. Queer, I was going to say it was Pynchon, who has distinguished himself so about all those things since. But that is a trick memory plays you. Pynchon must be ten years younger than Brereton ; I dare say he never saw him. It was Brereton — Bill Brereton — was reciting, and he was reciting about the pendulum. The old man told him about Galileo’s chandelier, I remember.

Well, then and there I saw the whole thing in my mind as I see it now. Singleton saw it too. He was hearing some little boys in Liber Primus, but he turned round gravely, and looked me full in the face. I looked at him and nodded. Nor from that day to this have I ever had to discuss the details of the matter with him. Only he and I did three things in consequence of that stare and that nod, — he did two, and I did one.

What he did was to go into the dominie’s bedroom, when he went up stairs after tea, take his watch-key from the pin it hung on, and put it into his second bureau drawer under his woollen socks. Then he went across into Miss Tryphosa’s room, and hung her watch-key on a tack behind her looking-glass. He thought she would not look there, and, as it happened, she never did. Those were in the early days. School-boys had no watches then. I do not think they even wrote home for them. If they did, the watches did not come.

I do not recollect that George then told me he did this ; but I knew he did, because I knew he could. I had no fear whatever, when I went to bed that night, that the doctor would wind up his watch, or Miss Tryphosa hers. As it happened, neither of them did. Each asked the other for a key, the master tried the old gold key which hung at his fob, which had been worn out by his grandfather when he was before Quebec with Amherst. Both of them said it was very careless in Chloe, and both of them went to bed.

We all got up early the next day, as we had promised. But before breakfast I did not go near the clock, — you need not charge that on me. I hurried the others, — got them to breakfast,— and ate my own speedily. Then I did go into the school-room ten minutes before the crowd. I locked both doors and drew down the paper-hanging curtain. I took a brad-awl out of my pocket, and unscrewed the pendulum from the bottom of the rod. I left it in the bottom of the box. I took a horseshoe from my pocket and lashed it tight with packthread about a quarter way down the rod, — perhaps two inches above the quarter. I put in a nail after it was tied, twisted the string round it twice, — and rammed the point into the knot. Then I started the pendulum again, — found to my delight that it was very good-natured, and ticked twice as fast as I ever heard it, — I shut and locked the clock door, rolled up the paper-hanging curtain, and unlocked the school doors. If you choose to say I went to the clock after breakfast, before school, that is true,— I do not deny it. If you say I went before breakfast, I do deny it,—that is not true. If you ask if it was right for me to do so, - as you implied you were going to do, — I do not claim that it was, I have not said it was right. All I have said yet is that the pendulum was goodnatured. And I will always protest, — as I have often done before, — against these interruptions.

I suppose I was engaged three minutes in these affairs. I cannot tell, because the clock had stopped, and, when we are pleasantly employed, time flies. I was not interrupted. Nobody came into that school-room before it was time. In the Boston schools now they hire the scholars to be unpunctual, giving them extra credits if they arrive five minutes too early. If they knew, as well as I do, what nuisances people are who come before the time fixed for their arrival, they would not bribe the children in that direction. Certainly dear old Parson Whipple did not. We went in when the clock struck, and we went out when it struck. He had no idea of improving on what was exactly right. If he had read Voltaire, he would have said, “ Le mieux est l’ennemi du bon.”

So when the clock struck eight we rushed in. Reverent silence at prayers. I suppose my conscience pricked me, I have very little doubt it did,—but I don’t remember it at all. Little boys called up in Latin grammar. Luckily they were all well up, and gabbled off their lesson in fine style : —

“ Amussis, a mason’s rule.

“ Buris, the beam of a plough,” &c., &c.

The lesson went down—one exception to each boy — without one halt; the master nodded pleasure, and passed up to the first boy again ; down it went again, and down again. These were bright little fellows ; not one mistake, — perfect credits all.

“ It is a very good lesson,” said the dear old soul. “ It’s a pleasure to hear boys when they recite so well. This will give us a little time for me to show you — ”

What he was going to show them I do not know. He turned round as he said “time,” and saw to his amazement that the clock pointed to 8.30. He put his hand to his watch unconsciously, and half smiled when he saw it had run down.

“No matter,” said he, “we are later than I thought. Seats, — algebra boys.”

So we took our places, and very much the same thing followed. Singleton and I were sent to the blackboards, for the dear old man was in advance of the age in those matters, — and we did our very quickest. But Hackmatack had not our motive, and perhaps did not understand the algebra so well, so that he stumbled and made a long business of it, and so did the boy who was next to him. That boy was still on the rack, too much puzzled to see what Singleton meant by holding up three fingers of one hand and one of the other, when the Parson said, “ I cannot spend all the morning upon you; sit down, sir,” sent another boy to the board to explain my work, looked at the clock, and was this time fairly surprised to see that it was already half past nine. Lie seized the opportunity for a Parthian lesson to Brereton and Hackmatack. “ Half an hour each on one of the simplest problems in the book. And I must put off the other boys till to-morrow.” The other boys were a little amazed at their respite, but took the goods the gods provided without comment. We went to our seats, and in a very few minutes it was quarter of ten, and we were sent out to recess. Recess, you know, was quarter of an hour; it generally began at quarter of eleven, but to-day we had it at quarter of ten, because school was an hour earlier. I say quarter of ten because the clock said so. The sun was overcast with a heavy Indian-summer mist, so we could not compare the clock with the sundial.

The little boys carried out their lunch as usual, going through the store-closet on the way. But there was not much enthusiasm on the subject of lunch, and a good deal of generosity was observed in the offer from one to another of apples and doughnuts, — which, however, were not often accepted. I soon stopped this by saying that nobody wanted lunch, because we were to dine so early, and proposing that we should all save our provisions for the afternoon picnic. Meanwhile, I conferred with Clapp about the black mare. He said she was in the upper pasture, which was the next field to our sugar-lot; and he thought he would run across now and drive her down into the lower pasture, in which case she would be standing by the bars as soon as school was over, and he could take her at once, and give her some grain while we were eating our dinner. Clapp, you see, was a day scholar. I asked him if he should have time, and he said of course he should. But, in fact, he was not out of sight of the house before the master rang the bell out of the window, and recess was over. Even the little boys said it was the shortest recess they had ever known.

So far as I felt any anxiety that day, it was in the next exercise. This was the regular writing of copies by the whole school. Now the writing of copies is a pretty mechanical business, and the master was a pretty methodical man, and when he assigned to us ten lines of the copy-book to be written in twentyfive minutes, giving him five for “ inspection,” he meant very nearly what he said, as he generally did. I ventured to say to Hackmatack and Clapp, as we sat down at our form, “ Let ’s all write like hokey.” But I did not dare explain to them, and far less to the others, why the writing should be rapid. Earlier than that, my uncle had taught me one of the great lessons of life, “If you want your secret kept, keep it.”

So we all fell to, — on

Time trips for triflers, but flies for the faithful,

which was the copy for the big boys for the day. The little boys were still mum-mum-mumming in very large letters. Singleton and I put in our fastest, *— and Clapp and Hackmatack caught the contagion. The master sat correcting Latin exercises, and the school was very still, as always when we were writing. How lucky that you never could hear the old clock tick when the case was shut and fastened! I should not be much worried now by the stint we had then, but in those days these fingers were more fit for bats and balls than for pens, and the upstrokes had to be very fine and the down strokes very heavy. Still, we had always thought it a bore to be kept twenty-five minutes on those ten lines, and so we had, some margin to draw upon. And as that rapid, good-natured minute-hand neared the V on the clock I finished the u in the last “faithful,” — having unfortunately no room left on the line for the l. Hackmatack was but a word behind me, and Clapp and Singleton had but a few “ faithfuls ” to finish. Why do boys think it easier to write their words in columns than in lines? Is it simply because this is the wrong way,— O shade of Calvin ! —or that the primeval civilization still lingers in their blood, and the Fathers wrote so, O Burlingame and shade of Confucius ?

We sat up straight, and held our long quill pens erect, as was our duty when we had finished. The little boys from their side of the room looked up surprised ; and redoubled the vicious speed by which already their mums had been debasing themselves into uiuiui with the dots to the i's omitted. Faithful Brereton and Harris and Wells — I can see them now — plodded on unconscious ; I could see that none of them had advanced more than a quarter down his page.

For a few minutes the dominie did not observe our erected pen-feathers, so engaged was he in altering a “ sense line” of Singleton’s or somebody’s. The “ sense ” of this line was, that “ the virtuous father of Minerva always rewarded green conquerors,” such epithets and expletives having suggested themselves from Browne’s Viridarium. But the last syllable of “ Palladis ” had got snagged behind a consonant, and the amiable dominie was relieving it from the over-pressure. So we sat like Roman senators, with our quill sceptres poised, — not coughing nor moving, nor in any way calling his attention, that the others might have the more time. And the little boys fairly galloped with their mums. But our sedate fellows on the other form plodded painfully on,—and had only finished seven lines when Mr. Whipple looked up, saw the senators and the sceptres, and said, reproachfully: “You cannot all have hurried through that copy! The chestnuts turn your heads.” With the moment, he turned his, to see that the minute-hand had passed a full half-circle. “Is it half past ? ” he said, innocently. “ I beg your pardon ; but among the Muses, you know, we are unconscious of time. Well, well, let us see. Rather shabby, George, — rather shabby; not near so good as yesterday;

‘ Some strains are short and some are shorter ’;

and you too, Singleton. I do not know when you have been so careless, — you both of you are in such haste. See, Wells and Harris have not yet finished their lines.”

Wells and Harris I think were as much astonished in their way ; for it was not their wont to come in sixth and seventh, — fairly distanced, indeed, on any such race-course. But there was little time for criticism. That goodnatured pendulum was rushing on. The little boys escaped without comment on those vicious m’s, and, if there were anything in the system, each one of them ought to write “ commonwealth ” now, so that it should pass the proof-reader as “ counting-house.” But there is not much in the system, and I dare say they are all bank presidents, editors, professors of penmanship, or other men of letters.

The clock actually pointed at quarter of eleven! Now at 10.30 we should have been out at recitation, translating Camilla well over the plain. We had

thrown her across the river on a lance the day before. We shuffled out, and I, still in a hurry, had to be corrected for speed by the master. I then assumed a more decorous tone, his grated nerves were soothed as he heard the smooth cadences of the Latin,—and then, of course, just the same thing happened as before. The lesson was ninety lines, but we had not read half of them when Miss Tryphosa put in her head to look at the clock.

“Beg pardon, brother, my watch has run down. Bless me, it is half past eleven ! ” And she receded as suddenly as she came. As she went she was heard asking, “ Where can the morning have gone?” and observing to vacant space in the hall, that “ the potatoes were not yet on the fire.” As for the dominie, he ascribed all this to our beginning the Virgil too late ; said we might stay on the benches and finish it now, and gave the little boys another “take” in their arithmetics, while we stayed till the welcome dock struck twelve.

“ Certainly a short morning, boys. So much for being quiet and good. Good day, now, and a pleasant afternoon to you.” It is at this point, so far as I know, that my conscience, for the first time, tingled a little.

A little, but, alas, not long! We rushed in for dinner. Poor Miss Tryphosa had to apologize for the first and last time in her life ! Somehow we had caught her, she said. She was sure she had no idea how, —but the morning had seemed very short to her, and so our potatoes were not done. But they would be done before long, and of course we had not expected much from a picked-up dinner, an hour early. We all thanked and praised. I cut the cold corned beef, and we fell to, — our appetites, unlunched, beginning to come into condition. My only trouble was to keep the rest back till Miss Tryphosa’s potatoes — the largest a little hard at heart — appeared.

For, in truth, the boys were all wild to be away. And as soon as the potatoes were well freed from their own jackets and imprisoned under ours, I cut the final slices of the beef. Hackmatack cut the corresponding bread ; the little boys took galore of apples and of doughnuts ; we packed all in the lunch-baskets, took the hard eggs beside, and the salt, and were away. As the boys went down the hill, I stopped in the school-room, locked the doors, drew the curtain, opened the clock, cut the packthread, pocketed the horseshoe, screwed on the bob, and started the pendulum again. A very good-natured pendulum indeed ! It had done the work of four hours in two. How much better that than sulking, discontented, for a whole hour, in the corner of a farmer’s kitchen !

Miss Tryphosa and her brother had the feeling, I suppose, which sensible people have about half the days of their lives, “ that it is extraordinary the time should go so fast!” So much for being infinite beings, clad for only a few hours in time and clay, nor wholly at home in those surroundings.

Did I say I would write the history of that chestnutting ? I did not say so. I did not entitle this story “ The Good Chestnuts,” but “The Goodnatured Pendulum.” I will only say to the little girls that all went well. We waited at the foot of the hill for a few minutes till Clapp and Perkins came up with the mare and wagon. They said it was hardly half an hour since school, but even the little boys knew better, because the clock had struck one as we left the school-house. It was a little odd, however, that, as the boys said this, the doctor passed in his gig, and when Clapp asked him what time it was, he looked at his watch, and said, “ Half past ten.”

But the doctor always was so queer !

WELL, we had a capital time ; just that pleasant haze hung over the whole. Into the pasture,—by the secondgrowth,— over the stream, into the trees, — and under them,— fingers well pricked,—bags all the time growing fuller and fuller. Then the afternoon lunch, which well compensated the abstemiousness of the morning’s, then a sharp game at ball with the chestnut burs, — and even the smallest boy’s were made to catch them bravely,— and, as the spines ran into their Little plump hands, to cry, “ Pain is no evil! ” A first-rate frolic, — every minute a success. The sun would steal down, but for once, though we had not too much time, we seemed to have enough to get through without a hurry. We big boys were responsible for the youngsters, and we had them safely up on the Holderness road, by Clapp’s grandmother’s, Tom Lynch driving and the little ones piled in —Sarah Clavers in front —with the chestnut-bags, when the sun went down.

By the time it was pitch dark we were at home, and were warmly welcomed by the master and Miss Tryphosa. Good soul, she even made dip-toast for our suppers, and had hot apples waiting for us between the andirons. The boys rushed in shouting, scattered to wash their hands, and to get her to pick out the thorns, and some of our fellows to put on some of the chestnuts to boil. For me, I stepped into the school-room, and, in the dark, moved the minute-hand of the clock back two hours. Before long we all gathered at tea,—the master with us, as was his custom in the evening.

After we had told our times, as we big boys sat picking over chestnuts, after the little ones had been excused, Miss Tryphosa said, “Well, boys, I am sure I am much indebted to you for one nice long afternoon. ” My cheeks tingled a little, and when the master said, “Yes, the afternoon fairly made up the short-comings of the morning,” I did not dare to look him in the face. Singleton slipped off from table, and I think he then went and replaced the watch-keys.

The next day, as we sat in algebra, the clock struck twelve instead of ten. The master went and stopped the striking part. Did he look at me when he did so ? He is now Bishop of New Archangel. Will he perhaps write me a line to tell me ? And that afternoon, when Brereton was on his “ Scientific Dialogues,” actually the master said to him, “ I will go back to the last lesson, Brereton. What is the length of a second’s pendulum ? ” And Brereton told him. “What should you think the beat of our pendulum, here ?” said the doctor, opening the case. Brereton could not tell ; and the master explained; that this pendulum was five feet long. That the time of the oscillations of two pendulums was as the square root of the lengths, Brereton had already said; so he was set to calculate on the board the square root of sixty inches, and the square root of the second’s pendulum, 39.139. I have remembered that to this day. So he found out the beat of our pendulum, — and then we verified it by the master’s watch, winch was going that afternoon. Then with perfect cold blood the master said, “ And if you wanted to make the pendulum go twice as fast, Brereton, what would you do ? ” And Brereton, innocent as Psyche, but eager as Pallas Athene, said, of course, that he would take the square root of five, divide it by two, and square the quotient “The square is 1.225,”said he, rapidly. “I would cut the rod at one foot two and a quarter inches from the pivot, and hang on the bob there.”

“Very good,” said the master, “or, more simply, you move the bob up three quarters of the way.” So saying he gave us the next lesson. Did he know, or did he not know ? Singleton and I looked calmly on, but showed neither guilt nor curiosity.

Dear Master, if there is ink and paper in New Archangel, write me, and say, did you know, or did you not know ? Accept this as my confession, and grant absolution to me, being penitent.

Dear master and dear reader, I am not so penitent but I will own, that, in a thousand public meetings since, I have wished some spirited boy had privately run the pendulum bob up to the very pivot of the rod. Yes, and there have been a thousand nice afternoons at home, or at George’s, or with Haliburton, or with Liston, or with you, when I have wished I could stretch the rod —the rest of you unconscious — till it was ten times as long.

Dear master, I am your affectionate