On Moving


PLEASANT VALLEY was a town, as towns go, with an ugly line of mills along a lovely line of water; with houses — some pleasant, some ugly; and a bulwark of low hills — all pleasant. As a rule, I think that we children were not consciously proud of Pleasant Valley, per se. There were, of course, occasions when civic pride stirred our sluggish pulse; as when my brother Tony, in a big geography, found a map on which Pleasant Valley was spelled out; or, as when our fire-company received what appeared to be a silver cake-dish for having the best something-or-other in the county. But, on the whole, our emotions toward our natal city seemed to find expression in a standing willingness — not to say urgency — to move away from it.

Everybody moved, we said. The Ellardsons had moved seven times since Harold was born, and he was nine months younger than our Tony. Furthermore, Reddy Smollett told Boy that they— the Smolletts — had once lived two thousand miles away; not that we believed that; still, it was indisputable that they had not always lived in Pleasant Valley, since we, with our own eyes, had watched their chattels brought in, and had attended the setting up of each piece of their scanty furniture, in the little house on the back of Hennie Curlew’s father’s yard. And, besides these signal examples, was it not known that in Fenwood City (our nearest metropolis) moving vans ran along the street even as water. Apparently, moving was a particular diversion of the city-bred — a privilege enjoyed by the opulent, who, it seemed, traveled from house to house, April and September, on and on, through their lifetimes, ever stimulated and renewed by fresh woods and pastures. That was wealth to a purpose!

But our parents were strangely apathetic to our incitements. They offered no good reasons for not moving, and still they did not move; and even reproved Anthony for saying that Pleasant Valley was a ‘rotten dead town,’ and me for promptly repeating it.

No; here we were, and had been for sixteen years, and no sign of a forward movement. Then arrived the crisis.

Father had a ‘call.’ Oh, mystery of church-government, — the question of moving clothed in heavenly guise!

It was a call to Philadelphia — the real Philadelphia, mind you, down in the lower right-hand corner of Pennsylvania. Hennie Curlew said that when they were in Philadelphia they lived in a big hotel and could have ice-cream for dinner every day. That settled it for me and Tony. Philadelphia drew us as a magnet—why this unconscionable delay? Well, father was ‘considering t he call’ —a mere form, of course. During this period, father held long consultations with mother, which usually broke off if we children entered the room — except Christiana and Sidney, who grew insufferably responsible. Anthony and I, however, took every occasion to make clear where we stood.

‘Hennie Curlew says there’s a river there.’

‘And a park!’

‘And the Liberty Bell! How could a true patriot resist the opportunity to live snug up against the Liberty Bell?’

‘And it has a crack in it.’

‘And all the children have bicycles in the park.’

‘And white marble all over their houses.’

Failing to awaken any marked enthusiasm, we halted; then, —

’I hate this Pleasant Valley,’ says Tony. ‘It’s getting to be the wickedest town. You ought to hear the fellows swear up at the engine-house.’

‘Yes and I heard a man swear,’ — my contribution,

‘ I don’t want you to stay about the engine-house, Anthony,’ says mother.

‘Well, I was just walking past — and there’s more drunken-ness every day,’ continues Tony, with a pious sigh of discouragement over the decay of civic righteousness.

‘Once a drunk man waved a cane at me,’ I began; but this was an old and long story, and Tony interrupted, —

‘And Mrs. Finney sells candy on Sabbath. Stiffey Lutz bought some. He told me would I buy some. I told him no, I was taking my nickel to Sabbath school.'

‘You told him you did n’t have any,’ I corrected; but Tony paid no heed.

‘At Philadelphia,’ he pursued, ‘they let you have your school-books free.’

‘And if you bust them, or scribble in ’em, you have to pay for them,’ put in I, tactlessly; for I was so beside myself over Hennie Curlew’s report of Philadelphia, as a whole, that I no longer could discern wheat from tares among my arguments.

Then father took me up, a flushed and excited little heap, fast growing incoherent in my championship of the strange city of which I knew only its position in Tony’s geography.

‘And what makes you and Tony so set upon staying in Pleasant Valley?’ father guilelessly inquired.

‘Why, I — why we —’ I sputtered, sliding off his knee in my zeal to set right this misunderstanding; then, catching his eye, I understood.

‘O father!’ I chided, with deepest reproach.

And father laughed heartily, as was his wont, sometimes, to hide a trouble in his heart. But we were too thoughtless to know that it gave him pain to refuse even our most childish longings.

And so we lived two weeks, expectant, proud, overbearing among our neighbors, in our new importance, while the ‘call’ swung in the balance. If Aunt Lucie’s Mary and spiteful Johanna Bailey took the best seats in the apple tree, ‘ Maybe I’m going away to Philadelphia, and never coming back,’ I would say.

And Tony, to be ready at any moment, sold his chickens and pigeons, even traded his second reader for two bean-shooters, relying on the munificence of the Philadelphia school-board.

Then, even then, when the meat was in our mouths, were we smitten. And in the following fashion; —

Father, away at a meeting of Presbytery, sent mother a telegram. The ‘ call’ had been formally presented at the Presbytery, and father, it seemed, had formally declined.

When he came home the next day, it was explained, not only to mother, but to us all, how there had been prayer, and father had decided that the ‘call’ was not the Lord’s will. And, though I wept a little, I understood, and we were happy, and father ordered icecream for supper that night. But on the street, after supper, it was clear that Tony and I had lost prestige.

‘We could have gone,’ I reiterated for the tenth time.

‘Then why didn’t you?’ coldly inquired Johanna and Hennie Curlew.