Hero of Stony Point - James Barnes

School Days at Chester—the Fighting Dunce

A small boy of eleven sat on the end of a newly felled log in a clearing of the Chester woods. He was a sturdily built, thick set youngster whose appearance would have little suggested the occupation at which we find him. With compressed lips and a deal of squinting he was trying to force through the eye of a much too small needle the end of a much too large thread. After many trials, pursued with an infinite patience, he succeeded. On the log beside him lay two strips of red cloth. Tucked into the edge of his small three-cornered hat, was a bundle of turkey feathers that only a half an hour before had been proudly spread by the old gobbler, who, panting and much disheveled, was hiding in an angle of the chicken yard fence a few rods away. The boy had had his eyes on the tail feathers for many a long day and had waited for the moment when, without fear of interference, he could despoil the old gobbler of his principal adornment.

With remarkable skill the boy began to sew the feathers between the strips of red cloth, and having basted them in so they stood firmly upright, he measured the band round his head, sewed the two ends together and, going down to a pool in the brook, looked at his reflection with all the self-satisfaction of a Narcissus. Going back to the log where he had left his coat and hat, be discovered that there was a rent in his coat sleeve; sitting down, he mended it neatly before putting it on.

Although incongruous, the Indian-like decoration became the boy's face better than the old three-cornered hat, for he had the high cheek bone, the deep-set eyes of the red man, and his little hawk-like features needed but to be a shade or two darker than the coat of tan that covered them, to make him, to all appearances, a juvenile member of the Seven Nations.

Carrying his hat under his arm, he walked along the path through the blackberry bushes, heading past the chicken yard where the hen turkeys had not yet settled down from the excitement they had undergone in witnessing the struggle and discomfiture of their lord and master. Reaching a barn and stable made of rough hewn logs, the boy bent down and, lifting aside an old barrel-head, disclosed a hiding-place in the stone foundation. It was here that he kept the things most near and dear to him; a bow whittled out of a hickory limb, a bundle of cleverly made arrows, and an actual Indian tomahawk that had been given to him by a man who had made a trading trip out into the great western forests. The boy carefully deposited the head-dress with his other treasures, then hastening round the corner of the barn he ran through the garden toward the large steno farmhouse owned by his father, who, on this day, had been away attending court down at Chester—an absence which, to tell the truth, was one of the main reasons for the raid on the old gobbler.

The reason for the boy's running was the fact that down the road that stretched in front of the farmhouse, he had discerned a figure on horseback coming along at a steady trot. As rather breathlessly he entered the back door the rider dismounted at the front veranda. The two met in the long hallway.

"Well, Anthony, my son," said the tall, well-set-up man as he looked down with a quizzical smile, "have you lost anything,"

"No, father," replied the boy, "not that I know of."

Isaac Wayne took something from under his arm.

"I found your school books 'tether side of the road near your Uncle Gilbert's house; I did not know whether you had dropped them."

"I left them there," said the bay frankly. "I was going to return and get them, sir."

"Too heavy to carry home, Anthony,"

"No, father, but old Jess started a rabbit by the side of the road and we chased it down by the edge of the clearing. I dropped the books there."

Mr. Wayne opened a copy book, very ragged and dog-eared. "Will you tell me, my son, what is the meaning of all this?"

He pointed to a page covered with lines and strange markings,

"Just a plan, sir," the boy replied, fidgeting a little, although he was looking his father straight in the face.

"A plan of what?"

"Of a battle, father."

"And when and where was this battle?" "It has not been fought yet, sir. I was just making it up."

Mr. Wayne closed the book with a smile that quite belied the seeming sternness of his next words.

"If you spent more time over your books and less in dreaming, you would make a more useful citizen, Anthony. I don't want you to grow up a know-nothing."

"I'd like to be useful, sir."

"Well," replied Mr. Wayne, "go out in the pasture and bring in the cows. I'll take you at your word if I have to make a farmer of you!"

"Yes, sir," said the boy, and went out of the house.

Young Anthony Wayne came quite naturally by any leaning toward military dreaming; his grandfather had been a soldier and his father had fought in the campaigns against the Indians in Western Pennsylvania and the borders of what is now Tennessee. It was in 1722 that Anthony Wayne, the grandfather of our hero, had moved from Ireland to Chester, Pennsylvania. He was a man of great independence of character, as evidenced by the fact that he had left behind him a very good country estate in County Wicklow, because he did not like the way the Irish peasantry had been treated after the defeat of the forces of fling James the Second by those of King William. With this military emigrant came his wife and four sons. Three of the sons settled quite close to one another on the Pennsylvania uplands, where their father was the owner of sixteen hundred acres. The site of the old homestead is now the site of Waynesboro that has perpetuated the family name, but it is by no means the only place where it is to be found on the map. His youngest son, Isaac, possessed more of his father's character than the others, who seemed content to take up the quiet life of farmers or the sedentary occupation of a schoolmaster, which was followed by Gilbert. When the elder Anthony died he divided his estate among the three sons that survived him, and to Isaac fell the best of the farms. Isaac had married the daughter of Richard Iddings, who was also a wealthy land owner in the same county of Chester. Elizabeth Wayne was a woman of remarkable character.

Having flans introduced the younger' Anthony's forebears, let us take up his life at the very interesting period when he began to develop individualities of his own. There were many of the neighbors' sons who also went to school at "Uncle Gilbert's" and many of these scholars were to he closely associated in the stirring and troublous times in the wars that were to come.

A short time, perhaps it might have been only a week or so, after his father had found his school books in the lane, Anthony, known to his comrades outside of school hours as "Sha-bo-na"—the Gray Fox—and the best shot with a hickory bow of all the tribes that he himself had organized, sat on a stool in the corner of the schoolhouse, looking as little like an Indian chief as any small boy could look. Instead of the crown of feathers on his head he had a conical ornament made of ordinary brown paper, on which was printed very legibly, in his Uncle Gilbert's back hand, the word, "Dunce." But if the position was ignominious it cannot be said that Anthony's demeanor was in the least humble. From under the edge of the tight-fitting paper rim he surveyed his schoolmates with a look of defiance, if not of open challenge.

He held not the slightest resentment toward his Uncle Gilbert, for be was perfectly aware that the punishment he was undergoing, if such it could be called, was well earned, but there was a comforting thought in his mind—and in the schoolmaster's also—that he did not care for study; the dead languages did not appeal to him and he had fully decided that so far as he was concerned the longer they stayed dead the better. At figuring, when Anthony had eared to apply himself, he was as good as any boy in school. There were few popular histories in those days and juvenile literature was confined mostly to rather stupid tales that pointed obvious morals or trite advice as to conduct, habits, and spiritual training. There was hardly a book, however, in his father's library that dealt with anything military that Anthony had not read from cover to cover.

There were sixteen boys in Gilbert Wayne's school, the eldest being but fourteen. At fourteen the days of instruction practically ceased, except for those lads whose fathers were wealthy enough to send them to one of the colleges or academies in the larger towns where the learned professions were taught. Anthony Wayne's father was well to do and he had conceived some ambitions in regard to his son's career, but often the boy had puzzled him, as he was now puzzling schoolmaster Gilbert, who had his own ideas of disciplining his young charges. He was one of the few schoolmasters who did not believe in the use of the rod and never had he lifted his hand in chastisement, even for breaches of behavior that deserved strenuous handling.

When the school was dismissed, this day, the boys trooped forth; one of them, Peter Iddings, a distant connection of Anthony's on his mother's side, came out last, holding something behind his back. It was the dunce-cap that had so lately adorned our Hero's brow. Beneath the humiliating label he had found time to print the words, "Anthony Wayne, His Hat." With some ceremony he presented it to its late wearer. No champion's gauntlet thrown in challenge ever produced a quicker result. The small boy flew at Iddings like a tiger cat. It was a battle that had long been pending between the two and it was interrupted by the appearance of the schoolmaster, who dragged the somewhat disheveled and bleeding belligerents apart and, contrary to his custom, cuffed each one soundly and leading them back into the schoolhouse, gave them a long talk on the benefits of peace in general. But, as it is with nations, so it is with individuals; it is sometimes better to have it out to a finish, for smoldering fires are more dangerous than fully extinguished ashes. Under the big red oak tree within half an hour of the schoolmaster's homily they were at it again. It was a prolonged and bitter struggle and ended in the younger boy extracting from his fallen antagonist the smothered sentence, "I've got enough." The fight established Anthony's prestige in the school. No dunce-cap as a bit of personal property is a disgrace to a champion fighter, and Sha-bo-na was established as one who not only mast be listened to in council but respected on the battlefield.

The scholarship, however, did not improve, for it was about this time that Uncle Gilbert indited the following letter, which was handed to Mr. Wayne by no less a faithful messenger than his son:

"I really suspect," says (filbert, "that parental affection blinds you; and that you have mistaken your son's capacity. What he may be best qualified for, I know not; but one thing I am certain of, that he will never make a scholar. He may make a soldier; he has already distracted the brains of two-thirds of the boys, ender my direction, by rehearsals of battles and sieges, etc. They exhibit more the appearance of Indians and harlequins than of students; this one, decorated with a cap of many colors; and others, habited in coats as variegated as Joseph's of old; some, laid up with broken beads, and others with black eyes. During noon, in place of the usual games and amusements, he has the boys employed in throwing up redoubts, skirmishing, etc. I must be candid with you, brother Isaac: unless Anthony pays more attention to his books, I shall be under the painful necessity of dismissing him from the school."

Isaac Wayne finished the letter without lifting his eyes to the face of the boy who, slightly flushed, was standing beside him at the old mahogany desk in his father's office. When he had finished, without comment, the father handed the letter to the boy. As the latter read, his chin trembled a little but he stood all the straighter. He knew that his father had been touched in his most vulnerable part—his pride. For a father's affections differ from those of a mother, who, no matter what her child may do, still has her heart and her arms open and her forgiveness ready before it is asked for. A father's love depends largely on his pride and his trust. It is reflective, as a mother's is instinctive.

As Anthony placed the letter back in his father's outstretched fingers be waited for what might be coming. Was it to be a punishment—a restriction of privileges? His father was a man of few words—that the boy knew well—but ho could make every word a stinging blow, harder to bear than bodily chastisement. The only thing the elder Wayne said was this:

"It's in your hands, my boy."

"Then give it to me, father; let me keep it until I can hand you another one."

There was no more said.