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PAGE 3

Roads Of Morning
by [?]

My grandfather–for it is time you knew him–lived with us. Because of a railway accident fifteen years before in which one of his legs was cut off just below the knee, he had retired from public office. Several years of broken health had been followed by years that were for the most part free from suffering. My own first recollection reverts to these better years. I recall a tall man–to my eyes a giant, for he was taller even than my father–who came into the nursery as I was being undressed. There was a wind in the chimney, and the windows rattled. He put his crutches against the wall. Then taking me in his arms, he swung me aloft to his shoulder by a series of somersaults. I cried this first time, but later I came to demand the performance.

Once, when I was a little older, I came upon one of his discarded wooden legs as I was playing in the garret of the house. It was my first acquaintance with such a contrivance. It lay behind a pile of trunks and I was, at the time, on my way to the center of the earth, for the cheerful path dove into darkness behind the chimney. You may imagine my surprise. I approached it cautiously. I viewed it from all sides by such dusty light as fell between the trunks. Not without fear I touched it. It was unmistakably a leg–but whose? Was it possible that there was a kind of Bluebeard in the family, who, for his pleasure, lopped off legs? There had been no breath of such a scandal. Yet, if my reading and studies were correct, such things had happened in other families not very different from ours; not in our own town maybe, but in such near-by places as Kandahar and Serendib–places which in my warm regard were but as suburbs to our street, to be gained if you persevered for a hundred lamp-posts. Or could the leg belong to Annie the cook? Her nimbleness with griddle-cakes belied the thought: And once, when the wind had swished her skirts, manifestly she was whole and sound. Then all at once I knew it to be my grandfather’s. Grown familiar, I pulled it to the window. I tried it on, but made bad work of walking.

To the eye my grandfather had two legs all the way down and, except for his crutches and an occasional squeak, you would not have detected his infirmity. Evidently the maker did no more than imitate nature, although, for myself, I used to wonder at the poverty of his invention. There would be distinction in a leg, which in addition to its usual functions, would also bend forward at the knee, or had a surprising sidewise joint–and there would be profit, too, if one cared to make a show of it. The greatest niggard on the street would pay two pins for such a sight.

As my grandfather was the only old gentleman of my acquaintance, a wooden leg seemed the natural and suitable accompaniment of old age. Persons, it appeared, in their riper years, cast off a leg, as trees dropped their leaves. But my grandmother puzzled me. Undeniably she retained both of hers, yet her hair was just as white, and she was almost as old. Evidently this law of nature worked only with men. Ladies, it seemed, were not deciduous. But how the amputation was effected in men–whether by day or night–how the choice fell between the right and left–whether the wooden leg came down the chimney (a proper entrance)–how soon my father would go the way of all masculine flesh and cast his off–these matters I could not solve. The Arabian Nights were silent on the subject. Aladdin’s uncle, apparently, had both his legs. He was too brisk in villainy to admit a wooden leg. But then, he was only an uncle. If his history ran out to the end, doubtless he would go with a limp in his riper days. The story of the Bible–although it trafficked in such veterans as Methuselah–gave not a hint. Abraham died full of years. Here would have been a proper test–but the book was silent.