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On Turning Into Forty
by [?]

The other day, without any bells or whistles, I slipped off from the thirties. I felt the same sleepiness that morning. There was no apparent shifting of the grade.

I am conscious, maybe, that my agility is not what it was fifteen years ago. I do not leap across the fences. But I am not yet comic. Yonder stout man waddles as if he were a precious bombard. He strains at his forward buttons. Unless he mend his appetite, his shoes will be lost below his waistcoat. Already their tops and hulls, like battered caravels, disappear beneath his fat horizon. With him I bear no fellowship. But although nature has not stuffed me with her sweets to this thick rotundity; alas, despite of tubes and bottles, no shadowy garden flourishes on my top–waving capillary grasses and a prim path between the bush. Rather, I bear a general parade and smooth pleasance open to the glimpses of the moon.

And so at last I have turned into the forties. I remember now how heedlessly I had remarked a small brisk clock ticking upon the shelf as it counted the seconds–paying out to me, as it were, for my pleasure and expense, the brief coinage of my life. I had heard, also, unmindful of the warning, a tall and solemn clock as I lay awake, marking regretfully the progress of the night. And I had been told that water runs always beneath the bridge, that the deepest roses fade, that Time’s white beard keeps growing to his knee. These phrases of wisdom I had heard and others. But what mattered them to me when my long young life lay stretched before me? Nor did the revolving stars concern me–nor the moon, spring with its gaudy brush, nor gray-clad winter. Nor did I care how the wind blew the swift seasons across the earth. Let Time’s horses gallop, I cried. Speed! The bewildering peaks of youth are forward. The inn for the night lies far across the mountains.

But the seconds were entered on the ledger. At last the gray penman has made his footing. The great page turns. I have passed out of the thirties.

I am not given to brooding on my age. It is only by checking the years on my fingers that I am able to reckon the time of my birth. In the election booth, under a hard eye, I fumble the years and invite suspicion. Eighteen hundred and seventy-eight, I think it was. But even this salient fact–this milepost on my eternity–I remember most quickly by the recollection of a jack-knife acquired on my tenth birthday. By way of celebration on that day, having selected the longest blade, I cut the date–1888–in the kitchen woodwork with rather a pretty flourish when the cook was out. The swift events that followed the discovery–the dear woman paddled me with a great spoon through the door–fastened the occurrence in my memory.

It was about the year of the jack-knife that there lived in our neighborhood a bad boy whose name was Elmer. I would have quite forgotten him except that I met him on the pavement a few weeks ago. He was the bully of our street–a towering rogue with red hair and one suspender. I remember a chrome bandage which he shifted from toe to toe. This lad was of larger speech than the rest of us and he could spit between his teeth. He used to snatch the caps of the younger boys and went off with our baseball across the fences. He was wrapped, too, in mystery, and it was rumored–softly from ear to ear–that once he had been arrested and taken to the station-house.

And yet here he was, after all these years, not a bearded brigand with a knife sticking from his boot, but a mild undersized man, hat in hand, smiling at me with pleasant cordiality. His red hair had faded to a harmless carrot. From an overtopping rascal he had dwindled to my shoulder. It was as strange and incomprehensible as if the broken middle-aged gentleman, my familiar neighbor across the street who nods all day upon his step, were pointed out to me as Captain Kidd retired. Can it be that all villains come at last to a slippered state? Does Dick Turpin of the King’s highway now falter with crutch along a garden path? And Captain Singleton, now that his last victim has walked the plank–does he doze on a sunny bench beneath his pear tree? Is no blood or treasure left upon the earth? Do all rascals lose their teeth? “Good evening, Elmer,” I said, “it has been a long time since we have met.” And I left him agreeable and smiling.