The Story of a Few Days in the Life of Frank Wilson, the Boy of 1885
FRANK wakes on Monday morning and begins the simple process of dressing. Let us stop a minute to ask where his clothes came from.
"Oh, I don't know. They were bought at some store," he answers carelessly.
He hasn't stopped to think of anything beyond the store,—of the great factories where cotton and woollen cloths are made daily by the mile; for the steam-engine that turns the spindles and works the looms never tires.
Even the buttons on his jacket could tell him a story, for they are made of rubber; and first, there was the gathering of the gum from the trees in South America, and the shipping it from Rio Janeiro to New York; then another steam-engine to work the machinery of the button factory. This giant servant begins to wait on him as soon as he is up in the morning.
Jonathan went to the well for water, washed his face in a tin basin, and wiped it on a coarse, homespun roller-towel. Frank has but to turn a faucet, and hot or cold water is at his service, brought from springs ten miles away, without thought or care of his.
Little, too, does he think how the food comes upon his breakfast-table. China has sent the tea, Arabia or Java the coffee, and Caraccas the chocolate. And there are oranges on the table,—oranges that can only grow in a warm climate. Two hundred years ago such a plate of oranges in the winter would have been impossible.
His school is twenty miles away, in Boston. But what of that. There is a wonderful horse of iron and steel that will carry him there in less time than it would take him to walk two miles.
In school he finds awaiting him the latest news from all parts of the world. All that the wisest men have thought out or discovered is at his service. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans have handed down to him all the best of their store of learning, and printing-presses are at work day and night, all over the land, to record whatever is new. He may take it all if his mind is able to grasp it.
Before school is over, his mother has thought of an errand she wishes him to do for her in Boston; so she speaks to him through the telephone, and the simple, vibrating wires tell him the message as plainly as if he were speaking with his mother face to face at home.
As he goes home with his father on the train in the afternoon, they buy for two cents a newspaper that tells them what happened in Europe to-day, or in Asia yesterday, and what the weather will be to-morrow.
It seems impossible to surprise this boy, for everything is told him before he has a chance to be surprised.
Tuesday morning finds him starting for school in a violent snow-storm. Any other boy of whom you have read in this book would have been wet to the skin before reaching Boston in such a storm; but here are rubber overcoat, boots, and cap, and, inside of this suit, a boy as warm and dry as if sheltered by his own fireside.
Then the train by which he goes to school starts out to battle with the drifts.
Many a snow-drift has been shovelled away by the sturdy arms of Ezekiel, or Jonathan, but Frank sits quietly studying his Latin lesson, while "the sunshine bottled up in the coal" (as a wise man has said) works for him, making steam, by which the great snow-plough shovels away the drifts, right and left, and scorning all obstacles, drives on its straight path into Boston.
If we go with him to school to-day we shall hear the
recitation of the astronomy class. When Frank was hardly
more than a baby, he used to
But now it seems as if no child need wonder any more, for here is the telescope to show him a rounded globe in place of a twinkling star; and the spectroscope to show him that his wonderful star is made of the same materials as the familiar earth on which he lives.
After school Frank's father asks him to go to a book-store and buy for him a certain book which he needs.
"We haven't the book in the store to-day," says the salesman, "but we will order it from London and have it for you in a week or two."
Think of that, and remember how Ezekiel Fuller sailed from London to Boston in ten long weeks.
It is a dark and stormy day, and the book-store is lighted at three o'clock in the afternoon with electric light, by which one can read as well as by daylight; the gas, too, is lighted in the streets as Frank goes down to the train, and in the cars he has some more of the sunshine of former ages "bottled up" in the kerosene.
Wednesday is an eventful day. His father receives by cable a message saying that he is needed in Calcutta to attend to some business.
The message is dated February 2, but he receives it on the afternoon of February 1, and this fact, which seems like an impossibility, makes very clear to Frank the meaning of yesterday's geography lesson about longitude and time.
"I shall always remember now that west is earlier, father, because this message came west and reached us earlier than it was sent."
On Wednesday evening the family gathered round the table to trace upon the map, with the father, the course of his proposed journey.
He will sail to-morrow, and this is their last evening together for many months.
See how the great servant, steam, is going to attend him upon his way. It will take him in a steamship across the ocean, in cars across France, again over the Mediterranean by steamer, and through the Suez Canal, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean,—every step of the way it will conduct him, and land him in Calcutta in a little more than a month.
While he is away, it will carry letters for him to his wife and children, and bring back theirs to him.
Whom else could you ask to run on such an errand for you, half round the world, for only five cents?
"I wish I had a new picture of the boys to take with me," he said next morning, as he looked at Frank and his little brother, standing ready to go down to the steamer and see him off. "We will have one taken to-day," said their mother, "and send it to you by the next mail."
Did I tell you of the curious little black profiles in round wooden frames, that hung on the walls of the sitting-room in Jonathan's home,—the only portraits that were to be had in those days, unless one was rich enough to pay some portrait-painter for an elaborate oil painting?
Frank will have the greatest of portrait-painters to paint his picture, and yet he will pay but a few dollars for the work; for it is the sunlight itself that will take his photograph. True, there must be a photographer who knows how to catch and to keep the picture when the great artist has painted it; and Frank pays this photographer for his work, since he cannot pay the artist himself.
As they came away from the photographer's, his mother stopped at the shirt-factory to order some shirts for the two boys.
"I wish we could see how they make 'em," said Frank; and the superintendent, overhearing the words, said, "I will send some one through the factory with the young gentlemen, if you will allow me, madam."
So they went into the great room where the cutting was done, then up to the sewing-machine room, where, instead of the busy fingers that used to sew for Roger or Ezekiel or Jonathan, a thousand fine fingers of steel, moved by a steam-engine, stitched away with a merry hum of industry, and only asked that some one should keep supplying them with more work and more. And there were the button-hole machines, turning off button-holes as fast as the work could be put into place, and nothing seemed to be left for common needles and fingers to do, but the sewing-on of buttons.
All this work seems so common to you, that you perhaps wonder I should tell you about it; but think for a moment of the other nine boys who had to live without sewing-machines.
On Friday Frank's cousin arrives from California. A week ago he had stood on the Pacific shore, and now he stands on the Atlantic. He has slept every night in a comfortable bed in a sleeping-car; he has telegraphed an order for his dinner each day to some station which he would reach at a suitable hour for dining, and he has had all the convenience and none of the hardship of a four-thousand-mile journey. Mountains have been tunnelled or cut away, wonderful trestle-work has filled up deep valleys, that his road might be straight and secure, no obstacle has been able to stand in his way, and he arrives fresh and strong, and full of interesting stories of the mining regions and the great ranches.
He goes next day with Frank to Barnum's menagerie. No doubt you have all been there too, and I don't propose to describe the animals for you; but I want you to think for a moment how wonderful it is that elephants and tigers and lions from Asia and Africa, seals and white bears from the Arctic regions, antelopes from the Cape of Good Hope, and monkeys and parrots from South America should meet together in Boston and let a Boston boy make their acquaintance.
If Roger had wanted to see an elephant he would have had to go to Africa or Asia for the purpose.
Ezekiel had seen bears and wolves and foxes caught or killed in the woods, but to him a lion was as strange and fabulous a thing as a dragon.
It seemed as if Frank had but to sit still and wait, and all the world's wonders would be brought for him to see.
He has more books than he can read; more pleasures than he can enjoy. I don't believe a twenty-mile ride on his bicycle, or a trip on his ice-boat at the rate of thirty miles an hour, gives him any greater delight than Gilbert felt when he went hawking by the river, or Wulf and Ella when they ran races in the woods.
I will end my book with a fable, and you may apply its meaning as you please.
Once there was a wise king who ruled over a great country. He had a son whom he loved very much, and wished to help in every way, but he said, "If I help him too much, he will never learn to help himself. I have treasures enough to make him rich, and pleasures enough to make him happy, but he will have to learn that, in order to enjoy riches and pleasures, he must first earn them."
So he hid the treasures in places difficult to be reached, and put all sorts of obstacles in the roads, and then he sent the young prince out into the world to seek his fortune.
Whenever he came to a great stone in the road, and lifted it out of the way, making the road not only easier for himself, but also better for all those that came after him, the strength by which that stone had resisted passed into the arms that had moved it; so he went on his way just so much stronger for every obstacle he had overcome. And for a long time this rough work with the hands was all he could do. But when at last the roads were so cleared that all men might easily journey over them, then other troubles appeared, obstacles that could not be lifted out of the way with strong arms, but must be thought out of the way by long and patient study, and when, at last, they were overcome, their strength also passed into the mind of him who had conquered them.
And as the young prince went on, working his way with hands and with mind, he grew stronger and stronger, and happier and happier; and when he had reached all the riches and the pleasures, he said joyously, "I do not need any of them; in going to seek them, I have gained something better than them all."
It is not what a boy has, but what he is, that makes him valuable to the world, and the world valuable to him.