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The Path of Life

by Stijn Streuvels

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He had been half awake several times already, but each time he had slipped back into an uneasy doze, a restless, wearisome sojourn in a strange, drowsy world, in which he struggled with stupid, silly dream-spectres, all jumbled together in a huddled mass of incoherent, impossible thoughts and actions; a blank world in which all his workaday doings were forgotten; an after-life of tiring sleep following on the carouse of yesterday. He lay half-suffocated in the stifling heat of that tiled garret, lay tossing on a straw mattress. And suddenly, with a jolt that jerked him sleeping like a beast of burden.

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I was a devil of a scapegrace in my time. No tree was too high for me, no water too deep; and, when there was mischief going, I was the ring-leader of the band. Father racked his head for days together to find a punishment that I should remember; but it was all no good: he wore out three or four birch-rods on my back; his hands pained him merely from hitting my hard head; and bread and water was a welcome change to me from the everyday monotony of potatoes and bread-and-butter. After a sound drubbing followed by half a day's fasting, I felt more like laughing than like crying; and, in half a while, all was forgotten and my wickedness began afresh and worse than ever. One summer's evening, I came home in fine fettle. I and ten of my school-fellows had played truant: we had gone to pick apples in the priest's orchard; and we had pulled the burgomaster's calf into the brook to teach it to swim, but the banks were too high and the beast was drowned. Father, who had heard of these happenings, laid hold of me in a rage and gave me a furious trouncing with a poker, after which, instead of turning me into the road, as his custom was, he caught me up fair and square, carried me to the loft, flung me down on the floor and bolted the trap-door behind him.



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