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Category: Adventures While Preaching the Gospel of Beauty
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TUESDAY MORNING, JUNE 4, 1912. In a hotel bedroom in Laddonia, Missouri. I occupy this room without charge.

Through the mercy of the gateman I crossed the Hannibal toll bridge without paying fare, and the more enjoyed the pearly Mississippi in the evening twilight. Walking south of Hannibal next morning, Sunday, I was irresistibly reminded of Kentucky.

It was the first real "pike" of my journey,--solid gravel, and everyone was exercising his racing pony in his racing cart, and giving me a ride down lovely avenues of trees. Here, as in dozens of other interesting "lifts" in Illinois, I had the driver's complete attention, recited _The Gospel of Beauty_ through a series of my more didactic rhymes till I was tired, and presented the _Village Improvement Parade_ and the _Rhymes to Be Traded for Bread_ and exhorted the comradely driver to forget me never. One colored horseman hitched forward on the plank of his breaking-cart and gave me his seat. Then came quite a ride into New London. He asked, "So you goin' to walk west to the mountains and all around?" "Yes, if this colt don't break my neck, or I don't lose my nerve or get bitten by a dog or anything." "Will you walk back?" "Maybe so, maybe not." He pondered a while, then said, with the Bert Williams manner, "_You'll ride back. Mark my words, you'll ride back!_"

He asked a little later, "Goin' to harves' in Kansas?" I assured him I was not going to harvest in Kansas. He rolled his big white eyes at me: "What in the name of Uncle Hillbilly _air_ you up to then?"

In this case I could not present my tracts, for I was holding on to him for dear life. Just then he turned off my road. Getting out of the cart I nearly hung myself; and the colt was away again before I could say "Thank you."

Yesterday I passed through what was mostly a flat prairie country, abounding in the Missouri mule. I met one man on horseback driving before him an enormous specimen tied head to head with a draught-horse. The mule was continually dragging his good-natured comrade into the ditch and being jerked out again. The mule is a perpetual inquisitor and experimenter. He followed me along the fence with the alertest curiosity, when he was inside the field, yet meeting me in the road, he often showed deadly terror. If he was a mule colt, following his mare mamma along the pike, I had to stand in the side lane or hide behind a tree till he went by, or else he would turn and run as if the very devil were after him. Then the farmer on the mare would have to pursue him a considerable distance, and drive him back with cuss words. 'Tis sweet to stir up so much emotion, even in the breast of an animal.

What do you suppose happened in New London? I approached what I thought a tiny Baptist chapel of whitewashed stone. Noting it was about sermon-time, and feeling like repenting, I walked in. Behold, the most harmoniously-colored Catholic shrine in the world! The sermon was being preached by the most gorgeously robed priest one could well conceive. The father went on to show how a vision of the Christ-child had appeared on the altar of a lax congregation in Spain. From that time those people, stricken with reverence and godly fear, put that church into repair, and the community became a true servant of the Lord. Infidels were converted, heretics were confounded.

After the sermon came the climax of the mass, and from the choir loft above my head came the most passionate religious singing I ever heard in my life. The excellence of the whole worship, even to the preaching of visions, was a beautiful surprise.

People do not open their eyes enough, neither their spiritual nor their physical eyes. They are not sensitive enough to loveliness either visible or by the pathway of visions. I wish every church in the world could see the Christ-child on the altar, every Methodist and Baptist as well as every Catholic congregation.

With these thoughts I sat and listened while that woman soloist sang not only through the Mass, but the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament as well. The whole surprise stands out like a blazing star in my memory.

I say we do not see enough visions. I wish that, going out of the church door at noon, every worshipper in America could spiritually discern the Good St. Francis come down to our earth and singing of the Sun. I wish that saint would return. I wish he would preach voluntary poverty to all the middle-class and wealthy folk of this land, with the power that once shook Europe.

FRIDAY, JUNE 7, 1912. In the mid-afternoon in the woods, many miles west of Jefferson City. I am sitting by a wild rose bush. I am looking down a long sunlit vista of trees.

Wednesday evening, three miles from Fulton, Missouri, I encountered a terrific storm. I tried one farm-house just before the rain came down, but they would not let me in, not even into the barn. They said it was "not convenient." They said there was another place a little piece ahead, anyway. Pretty soon I was considerably rained upon. But the "other place" did not appear. Later the thunder and lightning were frightful. It seemed to me everything was being struck all around me: because of the sheer downpour it became pitch dark. It seemed as though the very weight of the rain would beat me into the ground. Yet I felt that I needed the washing. The night before I enjoyed the kind of hospitality that makes one yearn for a bath.

At last I saw a light ahead. I walked through more cataracts and reached it. Then I knocked at the door. I entered what revealed itself to be a negro cabin. Mine host was Uncle Remus himself, only a person of more delicacy and dignity. He appeared to be well preserved, though he was eighteen years old when the war broke out. He owns forty acres and more than one mule. His house was sweet and clean, all metal surfaces polished, all wood-work scrubbed white, all linen fresh laundered. He urged me to dry at his oven. It was a long process, taking much fuel. He allowed me to eat supper and breakfast with him and his family, which honor I scarcely deserved. The old man said grace standing up. Then we sat down and he said another. The first was just family prayers. The second was thanksgiving for the meal. The table was so richly and delicately provided that within my heart I paraphrased the twenty-third Psalm, though I did not quote it out aloud: "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies"--(namely, the thunder and lightning, and the inhospitable white man!).

I hope to be rained on again if it brings me communion bread like that I ate with my black host. The conversation was about many things, but began religiously; how "_Ol' Master in the sky gave us everything here to take keer of, and said we mussent waste any of it_." The wife was a mixture of charming diffidence and eagerness in offering her opinion on these points of political economy and theology.

After supper the old gentleman told me a sweet-singing field-bird I described was called the "Rachel-Jane." He had five children grown and away from home and one sleek first voter still under his roof. The old gentleman asked the inevitable question: "Goin' west harvestin'?"

I said "No" again. Then I spread out and explained _The Village Improvement Parade_. This did not interest the family much, but they would never have done with asking me questions about Lincoln. And the fact that I came from Lincoln's home town was plainly my chief distinction in their eyes. The best bed was provided for me, and warm water in which to bathe, and I slept the sleep of the clean and regenerated in snowy linen. Next morning the sun shone, and I walked the muddy roads as cheerfully as though they were the paths of Heaven.

SUNDAY MORNING, JUNE 9, 1912. I am writing in the railroad station at Tipton, Missouri.

A little while back a few people began to ask me to work for my meals. I believe this is because the "genteel" appearance with which I started has become something else. My derby hat has been used for so many things,--to keep off a Noah's flood of rain, to catch cherries in, to fight bumblebees, to cover my face while asleep, and keep away the vague terrors of the night,--that it is still a hat, but not quite in the mode. My face is baked by the sun and my hands are fried and stewed. My trousers are creased not in one place, but all over. These things made me look more like a person who, in the words of the conventional world, "_ought to work_."

Having been requested to work once or twice, I immediately made it my custom to offer labor-power as a preliminary to the meal. I generally ask about five people before I find the one who happens to be in a meal-giving mood. This kindly person, about two-thirds of the time, refuses to let me work. I insist and insist, but he says, "Aw, come in and eat anyway." The man who accepts my offer of work may let me cut weeds, or hoe corn or potatoes, but he generally shows me the woodpile and the axe. Even then every thud of that inevitably dull instrument seems to go through him. After five minutes he thinks I have worked an hour, and he comes to the porch and shouts: "Come in and get your dinner."

Assuming a meal is worth thirty-five cents, I have never yet worked out the worth of one, at day laborer's wages. Very often I am called into the house three times before I come. Whether I work or not, the meals are big and good. Perhaps there is a little closer attention to _The Gospel of Beauty_, after three unheeded calls to dinner.

After the kindling is split and the meal eaten and they lean back in their chairs, a-weary of their mirth, by one means or another I show them how I am knocking at the door of the world with a dream in my hand.

Because of the multitudes of tramps pouring west on the freight trains,--tramps I never see because I let freight cars alone,--night accommodations are not so easy to get as they were in my other walks in Pennsylvania and Georgia. I have not yet been forced to sleep under the stars, but each evening has been a scramble. There must be some better solution to this problem of a sleeping-place.

The country hotel, if there is one around, is sometimes willing to take in the man who flatly says he is broke. For instance, the innkeeper's wife at Clarksburg was tenderly pitiful, yea, she was kind to me after the fashion of the holiest of the angels. There was a protracted meeting going on in the town. That was, perhaps, the reason for her exalted heart. But, whatever the reason, in this one case I was welcomed with such kindness and awe that I dared not lift up my haughty head or distribute my poems, or give tongue to my views, or let her suspect for a moment I was a special IDEA on legs. It was much lovelier to have her think I was utterly forlorn.

This morning when I said good-bye I fumbled my hat, mumbled my words and shuffled my feet, and may the Good St. Francis reward her.

When I asked the way to Tipton the farmer wanted me to walk the railroad. People cannot see "why the Sam Hill" anyone wants to walk the highway when the rails make a bee-line for the destination. This fellow was so anxious for the preservation of my feet he insisted it looked like rain. I finally agreed that, for the sake of avoiding a wetting, I had best hurry to Tipton by the ties. The six miles of railroad between Clarksburg and Tipton should be visited by every botanist in the United States. Skip the rest of this letter unless you are interested in a catalogue of flowers.

First comes the reed with the deep blue blossoms at the top that has bloomed by my path all the way from Springfield, Illinois. Then come enormous wild roses, showing every hue that friend of man ever displayed. Behold an army of white poppies join our march, then healthy legions of waving mustard. Our next recruits are tiny golden-hearted ragged kinsmen of the sunflower. No comrades depart from this triumphal march to Tipton. Once having joined us, they continue in our company. The mass of color grows deeper and more subtle each moment. Behold, regiments of pale lavender larkspur. 'Tis an excellent garden, the finer that it needs no tending. Though the rain has failed to come, I begin to be glad I am hobbling along over the vexatious ties. I forget my resolve to run for President.

Once I determined to be a candidate. I knew I would get the tramp-vote and the actor-vote. My platform was to be that railroad ties should be just close enough for men to walk on them in natural steps, neither mincing the stride nor widely stretching the legs.

Not yet have we reached Tipton. Behold a white flower, worthy of a better name, that the farmers call "sheep's tea." Behold purple larkspur joining the lavender larkspur. Behold that disreputable camp-follower the button-weed, wearing its shabby finery. Now a red delicate grass joins in, and a big purple and pink sort of an aster. Behold a pink and white sheep's tea. And look, there is a dwarf morning glory, the sweetest in the world. Here is a group of black-eyed Susans, marching like suffragettes to get the vote at Tipton. Here is a war-dance of Indian Paint. And here are bluebells.

"Goin' west harvestin'?"

"I have harvested already, ten thousand flowers an hour."

JUNE 10, 1912. 3 P.M. Three miles west of Sedalia, Missouri. In the woods. Near the automobile road to Kansas City.

Now that I have passed Sedalia I am pretty well on toward the Kansas line. Only three more days' journey, and then I shall be in Kansas, State of Romance, State of Expectation. Goodness knows Missouri has plenty of incident, plenty of merit. But it is a cross between Illinois and northern Kentucky, and to beg here is like begging in my own back-yard.

But the heart of Kansas is the heart of the West.... Inclosed find a feather from the wing of a young chicken-hawk. He happened across the road day before yesterday. The farmer stopped the team and killed him with his pitchfork. That farmer seemed to think he had done the Lord a service in ridding the world of a parasite. Yet I had a certain fellow-feeling for the hawk, as I have for anybody who likes chicken.

This walk is full of suggestions for poems. Sometimes, in a confidential moment, I tell my hosts I am going to write a chronicle of the whole trip in verse. But I cannot write it now. The traveler at my stage is in a kind of farm-hand condition of mind and blood. He feels himself so much a part of the soil and the sun and the plowed acres, he eats so hard and sleeps so hard, he has little more patience in trying to write than the husbandman himself.

If that poem is ever written I shall say,--to my fellow-citizens of Springfield, for instance:--"I have gone as your delegate to greet the fields, to claim them for you against a better day. I lay hold on these furrows on behalf of all those cooped up in cities."

I feel that in a certain mystical sense I have made myself part of the hundreds and hundreds of farms that lie between me and machine-made America. I have scarcely seen anything but crops since I left home. The whole human race is grubbing in the soil, and the soil is responding with tremendous vigor. By walking I get as tired as any and imagine I work too. Sometimes the glory goes. Then I feel my own idleness above all other facts on earth. I want to get to work immediately. But I suppose I am a minstrel or nothing. (There goes a squirrel through the treetops.)

Every time I say "No" to the question "Goin' west harvestin'?" I am a little less brisk about reciting that triad of poems that I find is the best brief exposition of my gospel: (1) _The Proud Farmer_, (2) _The Illinois Village_ and (3) _The Building of Springfield_.

If I do harvest it is likely to be just as it was at the Springfield water-works a year ago, when I broke my back in a week trying to wheel bricks.

JUNE 12, 1912. On the banks of a stream west of the town of Warrensburg, Missouri.

Perhaps the problem of a night's lodging has been solved. I seem to have found a substitute for the spare bedrooms and white sheets of Georgia and Pennsylvania. It appears that no livery stable will refuse a man a place to sleep. What happened at Otterville and Warrensburg I can make happen from here on, or so I am assured by a farm-hand. He told me that every tiniest village from here to western Kansas has at least two livery stables and there a man may sleep for the asking. He should try to get permission to mount to the hay-mow, for, unless the cot in the office is a mere stretch of canvas, it is likely to be (excuse me) verminiferous. The stable man asks if the mendicant has matches or tobacco. If he has he must give them up. Also he is told not to poke his head far out of the loft window, for, if the insurance man caught him, it would be all up with the insurance. These preliminaries quickly settled, the transient requests a buggy-robe to sleep in, lest he be overwhelmed with the loan of a horse-blanket. The objection to a horse-blanket is that it is a horse-blanket.

And so, if I am to believe my friend with the red neck, my good times at Warrensburg and Otterville are likely to continue.

Strange as it may seem, sleeping in a hayloft is Romance itself. The alfalfa is soft and fragrant and clean, the wind blows through the big loft door, the stars shine through the cottonwoods. If I wake in the night I hear the stable-boys bringing in the teams of men who have driven a long way and back again to get something;--to get drunk, or steal the kisses of somebody's wife or put over a political deal or get a chance to preach a sermon;--and I get scraps of detail from the stable-boys after the main actors of the drama have gone. It sounds as though all the remarks were being made in the loft instead of on the ground floor. The horses stamp and stamp and the grinding sound of their teeth is so close to me I cannot believe at first that the mangers and feed-boxes are way down below.

It is morning before I know it and the gorged birds are singing "shivaree, shivaree, Rachel Jane, Rachel Jane" in the mulberry trees, just outside the loft window. After a short walk I negotiate for breakfast, then walk on through Paradise and at the proper time negotiate for dinner, walk on through Paradise again and at six negotiate for the paradisical haymow, without looking for supper, and again more sleepy than hungry. The difference between this system and the old one is that about half past four I used to begin to worry about supper and night accommodations, and generally worried till seven. Now life is one long sweet stroll, and I watch the sunset from my bed in the alfalfa with the delights of the whole day renewed in my heart.

Passing through the village of Sedalia I inquired the way out of town to the main road west. My informant was a man named McSweeny, drunk enough to be awfully friendly. He asked all sorts of questions. He induced me to step two blocks out of my main course down a side-street to his "Restaurant." He said he was not going to let me leave town without a square meal. It was a strange eating-place, full of ditch-diggers, teamsters, red-necked politicians and slender intellectual politicians. In the background was a scattering of the furtive daughters of pleasure, some white, some black. The whole institution was but an annex to the bar-room in front. Mr. McSweeny looked over my book while I ate. After the meal he gathered a group of the politicians and commanded me to recite. I gave them my rhyme in memory of Altgeld and my rhyme in denunciation of Lorimer, and my rhyme denouncing all who coöperated in the white slave trade, including sellers of drink. Mr. McSweeny said I was the goods, and offered to pass the hat, but I would not permit. A handsome black jezebel sat as near us as she dared and listened quite seriously. I am sure she would have put something in that hat if it had gone round.

"I suppose," said Mr. McSweeny, as he stood at his door to bow adieu, "you will harvest when you get a little further west?"

That afternoon I walked miles and miles through rough country, and put up with a friendly farmer named John Humphrey. He had children like little golden doves, and a most hard-working wife. The man had harvested and traveled eight years in the west before he had settled down. He told me all about it. Until late that night he told me endless fascinating stories upon the theme of that free man's land ahead of me. If he had not had those rosy babies to anchor him, he would have picked up and gone along, and argued down my rule to travel alone.

Because he had been a man of the road there was a peculiar feeling of understanding in the air. They were people of much natural refinement. I was the more grateful for their bread when I considered that when I came upon them at sunset they were working together in the field. There was not a hand to help. How could they be so happy and seem so blest? Their day was nearer sixteen than eight hours long. I felt deathly ashamed to eat their bread. I told them so, with emphasis. But the mother said, "We always takes in them that asks, and nobody never done us no harm yet."

That night was a turning point with me. In reply to a certain question I said: "_Yes. I am going west harvesting._"

I asked the veteran traveller to tell me the best place to harvest. He was sitting on the floor pulling the children's toes, and having a grand time. He drew himself up into a sort of oracular knot, with his chin on his knees, and gesticulated with his pipe.

"Go straight west," he said, "to Great Bend, Barton County, Kansas, the banner wheat county of the United States. Arrive about July fifth. Walk to the public square. Walk two miles north. Look around. You will see nothing but wheat fields, and farmers standing on the edge of the road crying into big red handkerchiefs. Ask the first man for work. He will stop crying and give it to you. Wages will be two dollars and a half a day, and keep. You will have all you want to eat and a clean blanket in the hay."

I have resolved to harvest at Great Bend.

HEART OF GOD A PRAYER IN THE JUNGLES OF HEAVEN

 O great Heart of God, Once vague and lost to me, Why do I throb with your throb to-night, In this land, Eternity? O little Heart of God, Sweet intruding stranger, You are laughing in my human breast, A Christ-child in a manger. Heart, dear Heart of God, Beside you now I kneel, Strong Heart of Faith. O Heart not mine, Where God has set His seal. Wild thundering Heart of God Out of my doubt I come, And my foolish feet with prophets' feet, March with the prophets' drum.

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