You are currently viewing Chapter X by John T. Fowler

Chapter X by John T. Fowler




Was looking over a rubbish heap near a hotel. Saw three tumblers of dark-colored bottle-glass. Seeing they were not cracked, I thought they might be worth taking care of. As I was about to pick them up I was noticed by the landlord, who called to me that I had better not meddle with those three glasses; they had been used by a party of very dirty people and were more irredeemably befouled than I knew.




Was living in village, and in passing out of the door onto the sidewalk, stumbled against a neighbor who was passing. Knew him as an undertaker, Joseph Smith by name. Went into the back yard and had some talk with my mother about undertakers –– objected to being buried by a man named Joe Smith. Expected to need services of the kind in a few days. As I talked, I stood and combed down the nap of a shaggy cloak I had on with a coarse comb.




Was near a humble dwelling in the country, with a garden adjacent, when all of a sudden a large red and white calf rushed past me into the garden and began to caper about over the nicely made beds, making great havoc among the young vegetables. The whole family rushed out of the house and gave chase to the calf. “Aha, old fellow,” said I to myself, “you will soon be taught better than that.” But, instead of the trespasser being violently expelled from the premises, he was a moment afterward brought to docility, and was being petted and fondled by all.




Saw a well without a curb, and just at the open mouth of the well a large number of snakes of very loathsome aspect had gathered, and were clinging against the stoned sides, wriggling and turning their heads in all directions in a very lively manner. Just at the side of the well, too, was a small building of the kind anciently known as a draught-house or house of office.




Was up in one of the cherry-trees on the old farm, picking cherries. While gazing absent-mindedly off into the distance, took a careless step and fell out of the tree, striking the fence below with tremendous violence. What was extraordinary, though it was myself that fell, I seemed to remain out of the body and observe my own fall from above. I was taken for dead, and I saw two men –– one in plain garb and without insignia, and another with a tall crosier –– standing by me, seeming to wait for me to give signs of life, but I did not revive. There lost the vision, so do not know what was done with the body.




At first someone was teaching me the art of taking the shell off a raw egg without bursting it. The right way was to get it peeling off all in one sheet, and keep right on around the egg. I succeeded very finely, peeling off a shell with an ease not thought possible. Then saw a vision of a kind of stage, or upright frame, as for a picture, before me, in which appeared the figure of a man fighting. He was dealing fierce and heavy blows, but at first no antagonist was visible. The stage seemed to be filled with enormous eggs, boiled, and with the shells taken off, and the fighter’s blows fell upon these giant eggs and made them all quiver. Then more fighters appeared, all taking a hand in the fray, until, finally, the eggs were all gone, and the whole stage formed a tableau of men fighting a desperate and bloody pugilistic battle. Many hard blows and bloody wounds were seen, when one among the audience where I was, who seemed to be a man of authority, rose to his feet and demanded a cessation of the combat. Complied with, the play ended.




Found myself in a very singular structure like a square tower of open lattice-work. I was near the top at a giddy height, clinging to the slats on the inside. On one side of the tall structure there was a grapevine running straight up to the top, clothed with short, leafy branches laden with ripe fruit all the way up. At the ground a railroad track ran through the tower, and on one side was the station. A train was about to start, and I was anxious to get down in time to get aboard. I thought of the grapevine, and looked around that side, when I saw a board with a notice, warning against using the vine as a support, as it would be certain to give way and cause a fall.




Was present at a meeting of diplomatic agents, plenipotentiaries, or something of the kind, who had met to negotiate in the interests of two of the “great powers.” The address of one had in it a passage like this: “We use remedies drawn from all the kingdoms of nature, animal, vegetable and mineral; among which I will mention monogodon, buladium, liiiladium, tulil, rissocol, polomois, ninocus, etc., etc., but I don’t like either apples or figs.” [The strange names I can only give by imitation.]




I dreamed I was looking out of the window of an asylum at a very old, crazy-looking building with dormer windows and a thatched roof of weather-beaten, half-rotten straw. Only the upper part of the building was in sight. I heard the voices of people in the house calling to one another with exclamations of curiosity, as if they were examining it for the first time. Someone began to shove up one of the dormer sashes. The moment after the window was raised the crazy old house began to creak and groan; it tottered an instant, and then with a lumbering crash its timbers gave way, and it sank down out of my sight. I waited, listening intently, filled with fear for the persons who had been buried in the ruins. For a few moments total silence. Then a mournful voice of anguish began to cry, “Help! help! oh, help me!” and kept on so for some time, while my thoughts were busy about the question of rescue, and whether there would be danger to those attempting it, and how badly the sufferers was hurt, when the mournful cries for help were suddenly broken off.




Saw a level spot of ground on which an enormous quantity of chestnuts was laid out in windrows at right angles, forming squares, like a chessboard. A large party of boys were engaged in some kind of a game on this outdoor game board, being stationed at certain places among the squares. I could not exactly make out of what the game consisted. The attention of the players was directed towards one particular point at one side, and the game seemed to be a kind of hide and seek. After a period a dead man’s bones were brought to light at the point of interest, and then there was a change in the play, a general scramble with fisticuffs ensuing. I cannot be certain what was in the game I witnessed, but it was so rude a game (the concluding part) that it cost numerous lives.




The same night dreamed of seeing a gilded insect’s wing, like a cicada’s, lying between the leaves of a book. Soon after saw several keepers wrestling with a crazy man, trying to get him to give up a knife which he denied the possession of, and it occurred to me that the wing I had seen must be the blade of the knife they wanted.




Was out riding with a friend and stopped at a place to have a broken rein mended. The end that was broken off was taken into the shop by my companion, and after he was inside it occurred to me that in order to piece it both ends would be needed. Got off and went in, and the first thing I saw was a row of jars of green pickles. In the room next the shop was an immense quantity of ripe muskmelons cut up in quarters, the pulp exposed to swarms of flies. “What a ruinous waste!” thought I. Took one piece and ate it. The owner of the shop came to me right away and said: “Don’t you want some nuts, too? ” Then demanded pay for the piece of melon, which seemed to me quite an extortion.




Was in a large military camp. War was threatened, and the troops gathered in this encampment were new levies. The opinion prevailed among them that there would be nothing serious, that it would blow over or be “compromised” so that they would never be called into the field. I think the time was the beginning of the first French revolution, and the place somewhere in the provinces. All were inclined to take the muster for a holiday pageant or merrymaking, rather than a preparation for the serious business of war. All at once the report spread that the general assigned to the command of the corps was about to arrive in camp. Preposterously enough, the news caused more dismay than gratification. The officers proceeded in a body, however, to give him a worthy reception. They met him just on the outskirts of the camp, unattended and in plain garb. Their address of welcome was a loud remonstrance against his lack of ceremony. The general answered, with the air of one who merely adds a trifling comment to what has been remarked by another, “Yes, that’s what I like to see. You have already executed part of my commands, and you do right in coming to me for further instructions.”




I was out in a place in the woods where a hollow of open ground with wooded hills around forms a sort of amphitheater. While sitting on a rock on one side of the level open space I heard in fancy, probably from some reverberation of distant sound, the sound of many voices in the distance, all round the opposite side, as it had been a great multitude of apostles preaching in solemn, sonorous accents.


One night I was much troubled after going to bed in the way usual to me, and prayed very earnestly, even vehemently, to rid myself from my bonds. I dropped asleep after a while, and on waking not long after my head was filled with an idea as if I were surrounded on all sides by serried ranks of armed men, a vast, dark, silent host resting on their arms.




In a dream had a vision of a grand pile of masonry, a church or cathedral, evidently a new building, just completed. Was viewing it from near by, my post facing one of the corners. At the corner there was a well in the pavement, showing a circular edge of smoothly cut stone and the open mouth of the descending shaft. A little child was playing near the spot, and a man whose appearance reminded me of the cook of the asylum, probably from the white cap which he wore, employed at some work at the corner. The child in his gambols approached the brink of the well and crept along its edge and hung over its mouth in a way that gave me great alarm for his safety, and I felt I ought to warn the man to remove him from his place of danger. Afterwards I turned my attention to the building itself (I believe the man in the cap had gone away with the child), and saw another temptation to danger. The corner was built in such a way, with inclines, projections forming steps, turrets, pinnacles, etc., that it seemed to me to present a temptation to children to use it for a climbing place –– and if an adventurous boy should reach that unguarded foothold up there, what imminent peril he would be in of falling down and smashing out his brains! I expected a visit from a very daring boy in a short time, and trembled lest he might see the opportunity and expose himself to the danger.





Excerpted (in slightly altered form) from The Piling of Tophet and the Trespass-Offering: A True Life History by John T. Fowler, 1879.