The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2003

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Robert Beck's Story

Dancing School


Robert Beck

In the winter of 1857, I was then in my 20th year, the young men of the town organized a dancing school and a young doctor by the name of Cranshaw was to be the instructor. They also coaxed me to join them as they told me I was old enough to make by debut in society. But being very bashful I hesitated a long time, but after a deal of coaxing I went as an onlooker but dared not speak to the young ladies for I was so bashful.

Well, all the young men joined and brought the girls along except one young lady by the name of Curtice. She was a very nice young girl but extremely bashful like myself. So Doctor Cranshaw arranged matters that I must bring Miss Curtice to the dancing school and that we both must learn to dance and learn how to appear in society. So I bought me a standup shirt collar, a new neck tie, and a bottle of hair oil, and spruced up in the finest style. I think I also bought me a pair of cotton gloves. But the hardest of all was to screw up my courage to call on the young lady and invite her to accompany me to the dancing school, but it had to be done.

So one evening I put on a bold front and sallied out to meet my lady but I will never forget how scared I was, although the doctor [had] instructed and he assured me that it was all arranged with the lady and the old folks. So after a short walk I approached her house [and] with fear and trembling rapped at the door. The door was opened and there stood my lady. I made a very polite bow, she invited me in, gave me a seat, and waited for further developments. I started to say something but the words choked me and I forgot my lesson. But she came to my rescue by saying it was a fine evening and some other things, which helped to restore my confidence and after a while I managed to mumble out a few words and in a disjointed manner managed to ask her it she would accompany me to the dancing school and she said, "Yes, Sir, with pleasure." That broke the ice, but it had nearly broken my back, but the worst was yet to come. She was all fixed up very fine and I was very proud of my partner. It seemed she expected me that evening. Well, we walked to the ball room and I never felt so happy in my life for I began to feel like a man. I led her to the dressing room, then chatted with the other young men. But when I was called on to lead my lady to the floor for a dance, oh heavens, all my courage failed me for my teeth began to chatter and how I did wish it was all over. And when the music struck up and I tried to move, it seemed as if my feet were as large as a trunk. I stepped on my partner's toes and floundered around in a very awkward way, but I lived through it all.

The was also Miss Curtice's first experience at dancing but by the close of the winter we were both fine dancers and enjoyed it very much. We were frequently invited to dancing parties and she was always my partner. On the whole I enjoyed myself first rate while at Butlerville, or Indiantown as it was commonly called, for there were some very fine young people in that little town. Of course there was the usual village clown and the wag who always planned the scenes for mischief, and the poor fellow who would be the victim of his pranks.

The leader to get up the parties was a young man by the name of Warren. He was a splendid young man and very popular. Then there was a man by the name of Wilcox. He was the wit of the town and planned all the mischief. Then there was the poor fool that could easily be caught in the trap. I remember late in the fall of 1856 one frosty night we were to go snipe catching. Of course, the scheme was planned by Wilcox and was like this. We were to go on Bear Creek some cold night. We were all to provide ourselves with long poles, go up the creek and drive the snipes down into a bag held by the poor simpleton. So one dark cold night we all started for Bear Creek which was about six miles out of town. The bag holder was instructed how to hold the bag which had a barrel hoop stretched in the mouth of it. He was to stand in the middle of the creek, hold the bag with the mouth upstream, and the rest of us were to go up the stream and with out long poles drive the snipes into the bag. Well, we got the young fellow stationed in the middle of the creek. The water was about up to his ribs and quite cold. He was told not to move or make any noise as that would frighten the snipes. The rest of the party went up the creek a short ways, then took a roundabout way and came home, and left the poor fellow standing and waiting for the snipes to fly into his bag but they never came. So along toward morning he took the hint and came home nearly frozen stiff.

One of our crowd was always boasting of his courage and that nothing could frighten him. So our wag, Mr. Wilcox, concluded to put his nerve to a test. Now there were no apples in Iowa at that time, but the farmers all raised watermelons and it was quite a custom for young fellows to make raids on watermelon patches. So one night we were to make a raid on a field about 4 miles out of town. Now two were to go early in the evening with shotguns loaded but not with shot and hide themselves at certain places. The owner was also let in the secret and he was to take his place near a fence that our hero would have to climb, and set his bulldog on [him] just as he got over the fence, and the fellows with the guns were to fire as he ran through the corn fields. Well, we all started one evening for the watermelons.

Our hero as he was a big powerful fellow agreed to carry the bag of melons home. He was told before starting that the owner had an ugly dog and we must look out for him, but he assured us that he was not afraid of the biggest dog he ever saw. To get to the melon patch we had to go past the house, then through a corn field. Well, we got to the field without any mishaps, filled the bag full of nice melons and started for home. We had just got into the corn field when bang went a gun. I fell wounded and screaming, the other two kept running and before they got to the fence, bang went another gun and the other fellow dropped, also wounded but our hero kept on and hung [on]to the bag until he got to the fence and just as he was getting over, the bulldog took him by the seat of his pants and, oh, how the poor fellow did holler, and I think the dog would have eaten him up if the owner had not pulled him off. But as soon as the dog let go of him he took to his heels and never stopped until he reached town, but the watermelons he left behind. We saw him the next day and accused him of cowardice and running away from his wounded companions; [we told him] that our wounds were painful but not dangerous. He congratulated himself on having escaped the gun shot wound but he received a very severe dog bite and had his pants nearly torn off him. Well, we heard no more of his wonderful powers and whenever he would brag of his wonderful feats we would remind him of the watermelon expedition.

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