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    Getting Ready

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    Chapter 16
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    When I have written a quarter part of this paper the horse and wagon will be brought round, and I shall call for Ferguson and Putnam to go with me for a swim. When I stop at Ferguson's house, he will himself come to the door with his bag of towels,--I shall not even leave the wagon,--Ferguson will jump in, and then we shall drive to Putnam's. When we come to Putnam's house, Ferguson will jump out and ring the bell. A girl will come to the door, and Ferguson will ask her to tell Horace that we have come for him. She will look a little confused, as if she did not know where he was, but she will go and find him. Ferguson and I will wait in the wagon three or four minutes and then Horace will come. Ferguson will ask him if he has his towels, and he will say, "O no, I laid them down when I was packing my lunch," and he will run and get them. Just as we start, he will ask me to excuse him just a moment, and he will run back for a letter his father wants him to post as we come home. Then we shall go and have a good swim together.

    [Footnote: P. S.--We have been and returned, and all has happened substantially as I said.]

    Now, in the regular line of literature made and provided for young people, I should go on and make out that Ferguson, simply by his habit of promptness and by being in the right place when he is needed, would rise rapidly to the highest posts of honor and command, becoming indeed Khan of Tartary, or President of the United States, as the exigencies and costume of the story might require. But Horace, merely from not being ready on occasion, would miserably decline, and come to a wretched felon's end; owing it, indeed, only to the accident of his early acquaintance with Ferguson, that, when the sheriff is about to hang him, a pardon arrives just in time from him (the President). But I shall not carry out for you any such horrible picture of these two good fellows' fates. In my judgment, one of these results is almost as horrible as is the other. I will tell you, however, that the habit of being ready is going to make for Ferguson a great deal of comfort in this world, and bring him in a great deal of enjoyment. And, on the other hand, Horace the Unready, as they would have called him in French history, will work through a great deal of discomfort and mortification before he rids himself of the habit which I have illustrated for you. It is true that he has a certain rapidity, which somebody calls "shiftiness," of resolution and of performance, which gets him out of his scrapes as rapidly as he gets in. But there is a good deal of vital power lost in getting in and getting out, which might be spent to better purpose,--for pure enjoyment, or for helping other people to pure enjoyment.

    The art of getting ready, then, shall be the closing subject of this little series of papers. Of course, in the wider sense, all education might be called the art of getting ready, as, in the broadest sense of all, I hope all you children remember every day that the whole of this life is the getting ready for life beyond this. Bear that in mind, and you will not say that this is a trivial accomplishment of Ferguson's, which makes him always a welcome companion, often and often gives him the power of rendering a favor to somebody who has forgotten something, and, in short, in the twenty-four hours of every day, gives to him "all the time there is." It is also one of those accomplishments, as I believe, which can readily be learned or gained, not depending materially on temperament or native constitution. It comes almost of course to a person who has his various powers well in hand,--who knows what he can do, and what he cannot do, and does not attempt more than he can perform. On the other hand, it is an accomplishment very difficult of acquirement to a boy who has not yet found what he is good for, who has forty irons in the fire, and is changing from one to another as rapidly as the circus-rider changes, or seems to change, from Mr, Pickwick to Sam Weller.

    Form the habit, then, of looking at to-morrow as if you were the master of to-morrow, and not its slave. "There's no such word as fail!" That is what Richelieu says to the boy, and in the real conviction that you can control such circumstances as made Horace late for our ride, you have the power that will master them. As Mrs. Henry said to her husband, about leaping over the high bar,--"Throw your heart over, John, and your heels will go over." That is a very fine remark, and it covers a great many problems in life besides those of circus-riding. You are, thus far, master of to-morrow. It has not outflanked you, nor circumvented you at any point. You do not propose that it shall. What, then, is the first thing to be sought by way of "getting ready," of preparation?

    It is vivid imagination of to-morrow. Ask in advance, What time does the train start? Answer, "Seven minutes of eight." What time is breakfast? Answer, "For the family, half past seven." Then I will now, lest it be forgotten, ask Mary to give me a cup of coffee at seven fifteen; and, lest she should forget it, I will write it on this card, and she may tuck the card in her kitchen-clock case. What have I to take in the train? Answer, "Father's foreign letters, to save the English mail, my own 'Young Folks' to be bound, and Fanny's breast-pin for a new pin." Then I hang my hand-bag now on the peg under my hat, put into it the "Young Folks" and the breast-pin box, and ask father to put into it the English letters when they are done. Do you not see that the more exact the work of the imagination on Tuesday, the less petty strain will there be on memory when Wednesday comes? If you have made that preparation, you may lie in bed Wednesday morning till the very moment which shall leave you time enough for washing and dressing; then you may take your breakfast comfortably, may strike your train accurately, and attend to your commissions easily. Whereas Horace, on his method of life, would have to get up early to be sure that his things were brought together, in the confusion of the morning would not be able to find No. 11 of the "Young Folks," in looking for that would lose his breakfast, and afterwards would lose the train, and, looking back on his day, would find that he rose early, came to town late, and did not get to the bookbinder's, after all. The relief from such blunders and annoyance comes, I say, in a lively habit of imagination, forecasting the thing that is to be done. Once forecast in its detail, it is very easy to get ready for it.

    Do you not remember, in "Swiss Family Robinson," that when they came to a very hard pinch for want of twine or scissors or nails, the mother, Elizabeth, always had it in her "wonderful bag"? I was young enough when I first read "Swiss Family" to be really taken in by this, and to think it magic. Indeed, I supposed the bag to be a lady's work-bag of beads or melon-seeds, such as were then in fashion, and to have such quantities of things come out of it was in no wise short of magic. It was not for many, many years that I observed that Francis sat on this bag in his tub, as they sailed to the shore. In those later years, however, I also noticed a sneer of Ernest's which I had overlooked before. He says, "I do not see anything very wonderful in taking out of a bag the same thing you have put into it." But his wise father says that it is the presence of mind which in the midst of shipwreck put the right things into the bag which makes the wonder. Now, in daily life, what we need for the comfort and readiness of the next day is such forecast and presence of mind, with a vivid imagination of the various exigencies it will bring us to.

    Jo Matthew was the most prompt and ready person, with one exception, whom I have ever had to deal with. I hope Jo will read this. If he does, will he not write to me? I said to Jo once when we were at work together in the barn, that I wished I had his knack of laying down a tool so carefully that he knew just where to find it. "Ah," said he, laughing, "we learned that in the cotton-mill. When you are running four looms, if something gives way, it will not do to be going round asking where this or where that is." Now Jo's answer really fits all life very well. The tide will not wait, dear Pauline, while you are asking, "Where is my blue bow?" Nor will the train wait, dear George, while you are asking, "Where is my Walton's Arithmetic?"

    We are all in a great mill, and we can master it, or it will master us, just as we choose to be ready or not ready for the opening and shutting of its opportunities.

    I remember that when Haliburton was visiting General Hooker's head-quarters, he arrived just as the General, with a brilliant staff, was about to ride out to make an interesting examination of the position. He asked Haliburton if he would join them, and, when Haliburton accepted the invitation gladly, he bade an aid mount him. The aid asked Haliburton what sort of horse he would have, and Haliburton said he would--and he knew he could--"ride anything." He is a thorough horseman. You see what a pleasure it was to him that he was perfectly ready for that contingency, wholly unexpected as it was. I like to hear him tell the story, and I often repeat it to young people, who wonder why some persons get forward so much more easily than others. Warburton, at the same moment, would have had to apologize, and say he would stay in camp writing letters, though he would have had nothing to say. For Warburton had never ridden horses to water or to the blacksmith's, and could not have mounted on the stupidest beast in the head-quarters encampment. The difference between the two men is simply that the one is ready and the other is not.

    Nothing comes amiss in the great business of preparation, if it has been thoroughly well learned. And the strangest things come of use, too, at the strangest times. A sailor teaches you to tie a knot when you are on a fishing party, and you tie that knot the next time when you are patching up the Emperor of Russia's carriage for him, in a valley in the Ural Mountains. But "getting ready" does not mean the piling in of a heap of accidental accomplishments. It means sedulously examining the coming duty or pleasure, imagining it even in its details, decreeing the utmost punctuality so far as you are concerned, and thus entering upon them as a knight armed from head to foot. This is the man whom Wordsworth describes,--

    "Who, if he be called upon to face Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined Great issues, good or bad for human kind, Is happy as a Lover; and attired With sudden brightness, like a man inspired; And through the heat of conflict keeps the law In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw; Or if an unexpected call succeed, Come when it will, is equal to the need."

    THE END.

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