Dwellers in Arcady
by Albert Bigelow Paine
All my life I had dreamed of owning a brook
Just below the brow of the hill one of the traces broke (it was in
the horse-and-wagon days of a dozen years or so ago), and, if our
driver had not been a prompt man our adventure might have come to grief
when it was scarcely begun. As it was, we climbed on foot to the top,
and waited while he went into a poor old wreck of a house to borrow a
string for repairs.
We wondered if the house we were going to see would be like this
one. It was of no special design and it had never had a period. It was
just a house, built out of some one's urgent need and a lean purse. In
the fifty years or so of its existence it had warped and lurched and
become sway-backed and oldoh, so old and dilapidatedwithout
becoming in the least antique, but just dismal and disreputablea
veritable pariah of architecture. We thought this too bad, for the
situation, with its view down a little valley and in the distance the
hazy hills, was the sort of thing that, common as it is in Connecticut,
never loses its charm. Never mind, we said, perhaps our house would
have a view, too.
But then our trace was mended and we went alonghappily, for it was
sunny weather and summer-time, and, though parents of a family of
three, we were still young enough to find pleasure in novelty and a
surprise at every turn. Our driver was not a communicative spirit, but
we drew from him that a good many houses were empty in this
partpeople dead or gone away, and city folks not begun to come
yethe didn't know why, for it was handy enough to townsixty miles
by trainand a nice-enough country, and healthyjust overlooked, he
We agreed readily with this view; we were passing, just then, along
a deep gorge that had a romantic, even dangerous, aspect; we descended
to a pretty valley by a road so crooked that twice it nearly crossed
itself; we followed up a clear, foaming little river to a place where
there was a mill and a waterfall, also an old-fashioned white house
surrounded by trees. Just there we crossed a bridge and our driver
The man you came to see lives here, he said. The house is ahead,
up the next hill.
The man must have seen us coming, for the door opened and he came
through the trees, a youngish, capable-looking person who said he was
the same to whom we had writtenthat is to say, WestburyWilliam C.
Westbury, of Brook Ridge, Fairfield County.
Had we suspected then how large a part of our daily economies
William C. Westbury was soon to become we should have given him a
closer inspection. However, he did not devote himself to us. He
appeared to be on terms of old acquaintance with our driver, climbed
into the front seat beside him, and lost himself in news from the
outlying districts. The telephone had not then reached the countryside,
and our driver brought the latest bulletins. The death of a horse in
Little Boston, the burning of a barn in Sanfordtown, the elopement of
an otherwise estimable lady with a peddler, marked the beginning of our
intimacy with the affairs of Brook Ridge.
The hill was steep, and in the open field at one side a little
cascade leaped and glistened as it went racing to the river below.
That's the brook that runs through your farm, Mr. Westbury said,
quite casually, in the midst of his interchanges with the driver.
Our farm! I felt a distinct thrill. And a brook on it! All my life
I had dreamed of owning a brook.
Any trout in it? I ventured, trying to be calm.
Best trout-brook in the township. Ain't it, Ed?to the driver.
Has that name, Ed assented, nodding. I never fish, myself, but
I've seen some good ones they said come out of it.
We were up the hill by this time, and Mr. Westbury waved his hand to
a sloping meadow at the left.
That's one of the fields. Over there on the right is some of your
timber, and up the hill yonder is the rest of it. Thirty-one acres,
more or less. The brook runs through all of itcrosses the road yonder
where you see that bridge.
I could feel my pulse getting quicker. There was no widely extended
view, but there was a snug coziness about these neighborly meadows and
wooded slopes, with the brook winding between; this friendly road with
its ancient stone walls, all but concealed now by a mass of ferns or
brake on one side, and on the other by a tangle of tall grass,
goldenrod, purple-plumed Joe Pye weed, wild grape with big mellowing
clusters, wild clematis in full bloom. New England in summer-time! What
other land is like it? Our brook, our farm, here in the land of our
fathers! There were a warmth, a glow, a poetry in the thought that
cannot be put down in wordssomething to us new and wonderful, yet as
old as human wandering and return.
But then all at once we were pulling up abreast of two massive
maple-trees and some stone steps.
[Illustration: And here is your house, said William C. Westbury
And here is your house, said William C. Westbury.
Ghosts like good architecture
I believe I cannot quite give to-day my first impression of the
house. In the years that have followed it has blended into so many
other impressions that I could never be sure I was getting the right
one. I had better confine myself to its physical appearance and what
was perhaps a reflex impressionsay, number two.
One glance was enough to show that it was all that the other old
house was not. It did not sag, or lurch, or do any of those
disreputable things. It stood up as straight and was as firm on its
foundations as on the day when its last hand-wrought nail had been
driven home, a century or so before. No mistaking its period or
architectureit was the long-roofed salt-box type, the first
Connecticut habitation that followed the pioneer cabin; its vast
central chimney had held it unshaken during the long generations of sun
Not that it was intactoh, by no means. Its wide weather-boards
were broken and falling; the red paint they had once known had become a
mere memory, its shingles were moss-grown and curling, the grass was
uncut. The weeds about the entrances and rotting well-curb grew tall
and dank; the appearance of things in general was far from gay. Clouds
had overcast the sky, and on that dull afternoon a sort of still
deadliness hung about the premises. No cheap, common house can be a
haunted house. Ghosts like good architecture, especially when it has
become pretty antique, and they have a passion for neglected
door-yards. The place lacked nothing that I could see to make it
attractive to even the most fastidious wandering wraith. As I say, I
think this was not my first impression, but certainly it was about the
next one, and I could see by her face that it was Elizabeth's.
Place wants trimming up, said Mr. Westbury, producing a big brass
key, and the house needs some work on it, but the frame is as sound as
ever it was. Been standing there going on two hundred yearshewn oak
and hard as iron. We'll go inside.
We climbed down rather silently. I felt a tendency to step softly,
for fear of waking something. The big key fitted the back door, and we
followed Mr. Westbury. He told us, as we entered, that the place
belonged to his wife and her sisterthat they had been born there;
also, their father, their grandmother, and their great-grandfather,
which was as far back as they knew, though the house had always been in
the family. Through a little hallway we entered a square room of
considerable size. It had doors opening into two smaller rooms, and to
one much largerlong and low, so low that, being a tall person, my
hair brushed the plaster. Just in the corner where we entered there was
an astonishingly big fireplace to which Mr. Westbury waved a sort of
There is a real antique for you, he said.
There was no question as to that. The opening, which included a
Dutch oven, was fully seven feet wide, and the chimney-breast no less
than ten. The long, narrow mantel-shelf was scarcely a foot below the
ceiling. It took our breath a littleit was so much better than
anything we had hoped for. We forgot that this was a haunted house. It
had become all at once a sort of a dream house in which mentally we
began placing all the ancient furnishings we had been gathering since
our far-off van-dwelling days. There was a big hole in the plaster, but
it was a small matter. We hardly saw it. What we saw was the long, low
room, with its wide wainscoting and quaint double windows, and ranged
about its wallsrestored and tinted down to matchour low
bookshelves; on the old oak floor were our mellow rugs, and here and
there tables and desk and couches, with deep easy-chairs gathered about
a wide open fire of logs. Oh, there is nothing more precious in this
world than the dream of a possibility like that, when one is still
young enough, and strong enough to make it come true!
This was the kitchen in the old days, Mr. Westbury said. They
cooked over the fire and baked in that oven. Old Uncle Phineas Todd,
over at Lonetown, who is ninety years old, and remembers when his
mother cooked that way, says that nothing has ever tasted so good since
as the meat and bread that came out of those ovens. The meat was rich
with juice and the bread had a crust on it an inch thick. That would be
seventy-five years ago, and it's about that long, I guess, since this
one was used. Mr. Westbury opened a door to another square room of
considerable size. This was their best room, he said. They opened
the front door only for funerals and weddings. I was married over there
in that corner twelve years ago. That was the last wedding. My wife's
father lived here till last year. That was the last funeral. He was
eighty-five when he died. People get to be old folks up here.
There was a smaller fireplace in this room, and another in a little
room behind the chimney, and still another in the first we had
enteredfour in allone on each side of the great stone chimney-base.
For the most part the walls seemed in good conditionthe plaster
having been made from oyster shells, Westbury said, hauled fifteen
miles from Long Island Sound.
We returned to the long, low room and climbed the stair to a sort of
half-roomunfinished, the roof sloping to the eaves. Westbury called
it the kitchen-chamber, and it led to bedroomsa large one and three
small ones. Also, to a tiny one which in our dream we promptly
converted into a bath-room. Then we climbed still another staira
tortuous, stumbling ascentto the attic.
We had expected it to be an empty place, of dust, cobwebs, and
darkness. It was dusty enough and none too light, but it was far from
empty. Four spinning-wheels of varying sizes were in plain view between
us and the front window. A dozen or more of black, straight-backed
chairs of the best and oldest pattern were mingled with a mass of other
ancient relicsbandboxes, bird-cages, queer-shaped pots and utensils,
trenchers, heaps of old periodicals, boxes of trinkets, wooden chests
of mysterya New England garret collection such as we had read of, but
never seen, the accumulation of a century and a half of time and
change. We looked at it greedily, for we had long ago acquired a hunger
for such drift as that, left by the human tide. I said in a dead,
I suppose it will all be taken away when the place is sold.
William C. Westbury sighed. Oh yes, we'll clear out whatever you
don't care for, he said, gloomily, but it all goes with the house, if
anybody wants it.
I gasped. Thethe spinning-wheels and thethe chairs?
Everythingjust as it is. We've got an attic full of such truck
down the hill nowfrom my family. I've hauled around about all
that old stuff I ever want to.
Our dream began to acquire extensive additions. We saw ourselves on
rainy days pulling over that treasure-house, making priceless
discoveries. Reluctantly we descended to the door-yard, taking another
glance at the rooms as we went down. We whispered to each other that
the place certainly had great possibilities, but it was mainly the
attic we were thinking of.
We went outside. Somehow the door-yard seemed a good deal brighter,
and we agreed that an hour or two's brisk exercise with a scythe would
work wonders. We walked down to the brook, and Mr. Westbury pulled back
the willows from the swift water, and something darted awaytrout, he
said, and if he had declared them to weigh a pound apiece we should
have accepted his appraisal, for we were still under the spell of that
magic collection up there under the roof and his statement that
everything went with the house.
The price for the thirty-one acresmore or less, as the New
England deeds phrase it, for there are no exact boundaries or
measurements among those hoary hillswith the house, which for the
moment seemed to us mainly composed of attic and contents, though we
still remembered the long, low room and spacious fireplaces; a barnI
was near forgetting the barn, though it was larger than the house, and
as old and solid; the trout-brook; the woods; the meadow; the
orchardall complete was (ah, me! I fear those days are gone!) a
thousand dollars, and I cannot to this day understand how we ever got
away without closing the trade. I suppose we wanted to talk about it
awhile, and bargain, for the years had brought us more prudence than
money. In the end we agreed on nine hundred, and went up one day to
pass paperswhich we did after taking another look at the attic, to
make certain that it was not just a dream, after all. I remember the
transaction quite clearly, for it rained that day, world without end,
and Elizabeth and I, caught in a sudden shower, made for a great tree
and had shelter under it while the elements raged about us. How young
we must have been to make it all seem so novel and delightful! I recall
that we discussed our attic and what we would do with the fireplace
room, as we stood there getting wet to the skin. We had found
accommodations at a neighbor's, and we decided to remain a few days and
make some plans. We were so engrossed that we hardly knew when the rain
It was about sunset when I walked up alone for a casual look at our
new possession. It was still and deserted up there, and as the light
faded into dusk, the ancient overgrown place certainly had an air about
it that was not quite canny. I decided that I would not remain any
longer, and was about to go when I noticed an old, white-haired man
standing a few feet away. I had heard no step, and his pale, grave face
was not especially reassuring. I began to feel goose-flesh.
G-good evening, I said.
He nodded and advanced a step. I noticed that he limped, and I had
been told that my predecessor who had passed away the year before at
eighty-five had walked in that way.
Don't pay too much for this place, he said, in a hollow, solemn
voice. Don't pay too much. It was 'prised in the settlement at nine
hundred, and it tain't wuth any more.
II've already bought it, I said, weakly.
Yeh didn't pay more 'n nine hundred, did yeh? he questioned,
No, I didn't pay more than that.
I'm glad, he said, for it wasn't 'prised any more. I like to see
things in this world done fair. When yeh git moved I'll come to see yeh
again. Good night.
He limped through the long grass and disappeared over the hill. On
the way down I stopped at the Westbury home and reported my visitor.
Mrs. Westbury, a handsome, spirited woman, laughed.
That was old Nat, who lives just back of you. He's a good old body,
I'm glad he's a body, I said. I wasn t sure.
Our debt to William C. Westbury
Before going deeper into this history I think I ought definitely to
introduce William C. Westbury, who sold us the place. How few and
lagging would have been our accomplishments without Westbury; how
trifling seems our repayment as I review the years. Not only did he
sell us the house, but he made its habitation possible; you will
understand this as the pages pass.
Westbury was a native of natives. By a collateral branch he, like
his wife, had descended from our original owners, the ancient and
honorable Meeker stock, who had acquired from the Crown a grant of one
of the long lots (so called because, although of limited width, they
had each a shore front on Long Island Sound) a fifteen-mile stretch of
wood and hill and running water. His own homestead at the foot of the
hillthe old-fashioned white house already mentionedhad been built a
generation or two after ours, when with prosperity, or at least the
means of easier accomplishment, the younger stock had gone in for a
more pretentious setting.
Whatever there was to know about Brook Ridge, Westbury knewan
all-wide Providence could scarcely know more. He knew every family, its
history and inter-relationships. His favorite diversion was to take up
and pursue some genealogical thread, to follow its mazy meanderings
down the generations, dropping in curious bits of unwritten
historysome of it spicy enough, some of it boisterously funny, some
of it somber and gruesome, but all of it alive with the very color and
savor of the land that was a part of himself, his inheritance from the
generations of sturdy pioneers. Possibly Westbury's history was not
always authentic, but if at times he drew on his imagination he tapped
a noble source, for his narrative flowed clear, limpid, refreshing, and
inexhaustible. When the days grew cooler and a fire was going in the
big chimney, Westbury would drop in and, pulling up a big chair, would
take out his knife and, selecting a soft, straight-grained piece of
pine kindling, would whittle and look into the fire while he unwound
the skein that threaded through the years from Azariah Meeker, or Ahab
Todd, down to the few and scattering remnants that still flecked the
But I run ahead of my storyit is a habit. It was Westbury's
practical knowledge that first claimed our gratitude. It was complete
and infallible. He knew every horse and horned beast and vehicle in the
township, and had owned most of them, for he was an inveterate trader.
He knew their exact condition and capabilities, and those of their
ownerswhere we could get just the right man and team to do our fall
plowing; where we could hire a yoke of oxen if needed; where, in the
proper season, we could buy a cow. He introduced me to a man whose
specialty was cutting brush, because he had heavy, stooped shoulders
and preternaturally long, powerful armsa sort of anthropoid specimen
who wielded a keen one-handed ax that cut a sizable sapling clean
through at one stroke. He produced a carpenter properly qualified for
repairs on an old house, because he had always lived in one and had
been repairing it most of the time since childhood. He found us the
right men to clean our well, to do our painting, to trim and
rehabilitate our frowsy door-yard. He took me in his buggy to see some
of these men; the rest he sent for. If you have ever undertaken a job
like ours you have a pretty good idea of our debt to William C.
And this was not alloh, by no means! Westbury kept cows, in those
days, and made an almost daily trip with milk to the nearest sizable
town, by virtue of which he became the natural purchasing agent of the
thousand and one things we needed in that day of our beginning, and the
most reliable and efficient I have ever known. Nothing was too small or
too big for Westbury to remember, and I can see him now swing his team
up to the front step and hear him call out, Hey, there! as a
preparation to unloading crockery and tinware, dry-goods and notions,
garden tools and food-stuff, his wagon full, his pockets full, without
ever an oversight or a poor selection. If you have ever lived in the
country you know what a thing like that is worth. It was my opinion
that Westbury was a genius, and he has since proved it.
But I am still going too fast. The family did not immediately come
to Brook Ridge, and perhaps I should say here that the family,
besides Elizabeth, consisted of three hardy daughters, whom I shall
name as the Pride, the Hope, and the Joy, aged twelve, seven, and two,
respectively. They were boarding at a pleasant farm some twenty miles
away, and it was thought advisable for them to remain there with
Elizabeth a week or such a matter while I came over and stopped with
Westbury and his capable wife, to get things started.
Those were lovely days
My impression is that our carpenter came first, though the exact
sequence is unimportant. He was not exclusively a carpenter, being also
a farmer during a considerable portion of the year. He would have to
knock off, now and then, he said, to look after his corn and potatoes,
while his assistant, it appeared, served in the double capacity of
helper and hired man.
But they were a suitable team for the work in handreconstruction
on an old house that had been put up mainly with an ax and a trowel, by
thumb measure, having probably never known anything so prosaic as a
spirit-level and a square. We began on the large roomthat is to say,
the old kitchen, which was to be the new living-room, and in a very
little while had the prehistoric pantry and sink ripped out and the big
hole patched in the plaster, for our boss carpenter was a gifted man,
qualified for general repairs.
No, on second thought, we did not rip out quite all the old pantry.
There were some whitewood shelves that had been put there to stay, and
in the century or so of their occupancy appeared to have grown to the
other woodwork. Considering them a little, and the fact that it would
require an ax and perhaps dynamite to dislodge them, I had an
inspiration. Modified a little, they would make excellent bric-à-brac
and book shelves and serve a new and beautiful use through all the
centuries we expected to live there. I feverishly began drawing
designs, and the chief carpenter and I undertook this fine-art and
literary corner at once, so that it might be finished and a surprise
for Elizabeth and the others when they came. It was well that we did
so, for it was no light matter to reduce the width of those shelves.
Whitewood is not hard when fresh, but this had seasoned with the
generations until it was as easy to saw as dried hornjust aboutand
we took turns at it, and the sweat got in my eyes, and I would have
sent for the ax and the dynamite if I hadn't passed my word.
Meantime, the helper, whose name was Henry Jones, was hewing an
oaken cross-beam which supported the ceiling, and which I could not
pass under without violently knocking my head. I am satisfied that the
original builders of that house were short people, or they would have
planned the old kitchen a few inches higher. But then I am always
knocking my head nearly off against something. I have left gleanings
from it on the sharp edges of a thousand swinging signs and on the
cruel filigree of as many low-hung chandeliers. My slightly bald spot,
due to severe mental effort, or something, if examined closely would be
found to resemble an old battlefield in France. But this is digression.
As I was saying, Henry Jones was hewing at the big old cross-beam,
trying to raise its lower sky-line a couple of inches with a foot-adz.
I had not supposed that the job would be especially difficult. I did
not realize that the old white-oak beam in a century and a half had
petrified. We were having a pretty toilsome time with our shelves, but
I never saw a man sweat and carry on like Henry Jones. He had to work
straight up, with his head tipped back, and his neck was rather short,
with no proper hinge in it. Besides, it was August, and pretty still
and intense, and then some bees that had taken up residence between the
floors did not like the noise he made, and occasionally came down to
see about it. At such times he made what was in the nature of a spring
for the door, explaining later that he had been to sharpen his adz.
During quieter moments I went over, at his suggestion, to measure up
and see if the beam wasn t high enough. It was on the afternoon of the
second day that I told him that if he would now trim up and round off
the corners a little I thought I might be able to pass under it without
butting my remaining brains out. You never saw a man so relieved. I
think he considered me over-particular about a small matter. As a
reward I set him to elevating the beam across the top of the door
leading to the kitchenquite an easy job. He only had to put in a few
hours of patient overhead sawing and split out the chunks with wedges
and a maul.
Observing Henry Jones though fully, I became convinced that the
oaken frame of our house was nearly indestructible. When I found time I
examined its timbers rather carefully. They were massive as to size,
hand hewn, and held together with big wooden pins. No worm had been
indiscreet enough to tackle those timbers. The entire structure was
anchored in the masonry of the huge chimney, and as a whole was about
as solid as the foundations of the world. There were builders in those
I have mentioned the ancient mariner who appeared in the dusk of
the evening to warn me against over-payment for the placeold Nat. It
turned out that he was a farmer, but with artistic leanings in the
direction of whitewash. He appeared one morning in a more substantial
form, and was presently making alabaster of our up-stairs ceilings, for
if ever there was an old master in whitewash it was Nat. Never a streak
or a patchy place, and he knew the secret of somehow making the second
coat gleam like frosting on a wedding-cake.
Things were happening all about. Old Pop, the brush-cutter, had
arrived, with his deadly one-handed ax, and was busy in the lower brook
lota desperate place of briers and brush and poison ivy. He was a
savage worker. The thorns stung him to a pitch of fighting madness, and
he went after them, careless of mishap. Each evening he came up out of
that vicious swamp, bleeding at every pore, his massive shoulders
hunched forward, his super-normal arms hanging until his huge hands
nearly swept the ground.
Pop in action was a fascinating sight. Few things could be finer
than to see him snatch away a barbed-wire entanglement of
blackberry-bushes, clutch a three-inch thorn sapling with his hairy
left, and with one swing of his terrible right cut the taproot through.
I had figured that it would take a month to clear away that mess along
the brook, but on the evening of the fifth day Pop had the last bit of
its tangle cut and piled. Of such stuff were warriors of the olden
time. Given armor and a battle-ax, and nothing could have stood before
him. One could imagine him at Crecy, at Agincourt, at Patay. Joan of
Arc would have kept him at her side.
Pop had another name, but everybody called him Old Pop and he
seemed to prefer it. He was seventy years old and a pensioner. There
was a week when his check came that he did no work, but remained
dressed up, and I fear did not always get the worth of his money. Never
mind, he had earned relaxation. An ancient hickory-tree in the brook
meadow had been broken by a March storm. Old Pop and his son Sam had it
cut, split, and sawed into fireplace lengths in a little while. That
is, comparatively. I think they were two or three days at it, while it
had taken nature a full hundred and sixty years to get the old tree
ready for them. I counted the rings. The figures impressed me.
It waslet us sayas old as the old house. It had been a straight
young tree of thirty years or so when the Revolutionary began, and it
saw the recruits of Brook Ridge march by to join Putnam, who had a camp
on a neighboring hill. There were Reeds and Meekers and Burrs and Todds
and Sanfords in that little detachment, and their uniforms were not
very uniform, and their knapsacks none too well filled. There was no
rich government behind them to vote billions for defense, no camps that
were cities sprung up in a night, no swift trains to whirl them to
their destination. Where they went they walked, through dust or mud and
over the stony hills. The old tree saw them passin its youth and
theirsand by and by saw them returnfewer in numbers, and foot-sore,
but triumphant. I mentioned it to Pop. He said:
YeahI was in the Civil War. It wa'n't much fun, but I'm lookin'
for my pension to be increased next year.
When there was no more brush or chopping I set Pop to laying stone
wall and said I would employ him steadily for a year. But that was a
mistake. Old Pop was a free lance, a knight errant. Anything that
savored of permanency smelled to him of vassalage. He laid a rod of
stone wallsolid wall that will be there for Gabriel to stand on when
he plays his last trumpblows it, I meanin that neighborhood. But
then he collected, one evening, and vanished, and I did not see him any
more. I never carried the wall any farther. As Pop left it, so it
remains to this day.
My plowman was a young mana handsome, high-born-looking youth who
came one Sunday evening to arrange terms. He was stylishly dressed, and
I took him for a college lad on vacation. He assured me, however, that
his schooling had been acquired in the neighborhood, that he was a
farmer on his own account, with a team of his own, and that he was
accustomed to plowing rocky land. His name was Luther Merrill, and if I
had thought him handsome in his fine clothes, I considered him really
superb when he arrived next morning in work attire and started his
great plow and big white horses around the furrows. There had been a
shower in the night and the summer foliage was freshthe leaves
shining. Against a gleaming green background of maple, alder, and wild
clematis, Luther Merrill in shirt and trousers, his collar open, his
sleeves turned back, bending to the plow and calling directions to his
sturdy team, was something to make one's heart leap for joy. I
photographed him unobserved. I longed to paint him.
My admiration grew as I observed the character of his plowing. A
Western boy wouldn't have stood it five minutes. The soil was at least
half stone, and the stones were not all loose. Every other rod the plow
brought up with a jerk that nearly flung the plowman over the top of
it. Then he had to yank and haul it out, lift it over, and start again.
He did not lose his temper, even when he broke one of his plow points,
of which, it seemed, he had brought a supply, in anticipation. He
merely called something encouraging to his horses and went on. I know
about plowing, and I once plowed a small blackberry-patch that was
mostly roots, and nearly swore my teeth loose in the half a day it took
me. But that had been nothing to this, and this was continual. I
decided that nothing could feaze Luther Merrill.
Still, he was not absolute proof against bees. I have mentioned the
swarm between the floors of the old house, and in the course of the
morning Luther's plowing took him near the corner where it seems they
had their entrance. It was a bright, hot day and they were quite busy,
but not busy enough to prevent them from giving prompt attention to us
as we came along.
I was holding one handle of the plow at the moment, pretending to
help, when I noticed a peculiar high-pitched note close to my ear, and
a certain pungent mad smell which bees know how to make. Something
told me just then that I had business in the upper corner of the lot
and I set out to attend to it. Two of those bees came along. They
hurried a good dealthey had to, to keep up with me. I discouraged
them as much as possible with an earnest fanning or beating motion and
sharp words. I was not entirely successful. I felt something hot and
sudden on the lobe of one ear just as I dove beneath the bushes that
draped the upper wall, and I had an almost immediate sensation of its
becoming hard and pear-shaped.
I peered out presently to see what had become of Luther Merrill. He
had not basely deserted his teamhe was too high-class for that, but
he was moving from the point of attack with as little delay as
possible, grasping the lines with one hand and pawing the air with the
other. By the time I reached him he was plowing in a rather remote
corner, and he had lost some of his beautyone eye was quite closed.
He said he would plow down there by the house late in the evening, or
on the next wet day.
Luther plowed and harrowed and sowed for ustwo fields of rye and
timothy mixed, to insure a future meadow, this on Westbury's advice. A
part of one field had great boulders in it, which he suggested we take
out. I said we would drop the boulders into the brook at intervals to
make the pretty falls it now lacked. Next morning, Luther Merrill came
with a heavy chain and a stone-boat (an immense sled without runners)
and for two happy days we reconstructed the world, dislocating and
hauling boulders that had not stirred since the ice age.
Luther was an expert at chaining out boulders, and he loved the job.
When we got one to the brook, and after great prying and grunting
finally boosted it in with a mighty splash, Luther would wave his arms,
jump about, and laugh like the high-hearted boy that he was. Those were
We carried down a little hair trunk
I was in the midst of the improvements mentioned when the
familythat is to say, Elizabeth and the girlsarrived on the scene.
It was a fine August daythe 21st, to be quite exactand I borrowed a
horse and light wagon from Westbury and drove the three miles of brook
and woods and meadow to the station to meet them.
There was just one business house at the stationa general
storeand I suddenly found myself deeply interested, in things I had
barely noticed heretofore. Why, there was a broom! Sure enough, we
would need a broom; also, a rakethat was highly necessary; and a
hatchet, and some nails, and a shovel, and a water-pail, and a big
galvanized tub, andby the time the train came it took careful
arrangement to fit in the family and the baggage among my purchases.
The Pride had to sit on the water-pail, the Joy, aged two, in the
galvanized tub, while the Hope, who was seven, sat on a trunk at the
back, dangled her legs, waved her arms, and whooped her delight as we
joggled along, for the Hope was a care-free, unrestrained soul, and the
world to her just a perpetual song and dance.
They were in a mood to take things as they found them; even the
Pride, who at twelve was critical, expressed herself as satisfied with
the house, and, with the Hope, presently made a dash for the attic, our
story of which had stirred them deeply. It was necessary to restrain
them somewhat. In the first place, our attic was not a possession to be
pawed over by careless and undiscerning childhood. Besides, it was hot
up there under the roof, and gray with the dust of years. It was a
place for a cool, rainy day and not for a mid-August afternoon.
We carried down a little hair trunk with brass nails in it, and
under the shade of one of the big maples the tribe, as we sometimes
call them, spread out the treasures of some little old-fashioned girl
who long, long ago had put them away for the last time. There were doll
dresses, made of the quaint prints of another day, and their gay posy
patterns had remained fresh, though the thread of the long childish
stitches had grown yellow with the years. They had very full skirts,
and waists that opened in front, and there was an apron with a
wonderful bib, and a little split sun-bonnet, probably for every-day
wear, also another bonnet which must have been for occasions, for its
material was silk and it was one of those grand, flaring coal-scuttle
affairs such as fashionable dolls wore a very long time ago.
The doll was not there. Long since she had gone the way of all
dolls; but the Pride and the Hope decked their own dolls in the little
old wardrobe, and thought it all delightful and amusing, while we
watched them with long thoughts, trying to picture the little girl who
had one day put her treasures away to become a young lady, and in time
a wife, and a mother, and a grandmother, and was now resting on the
sunny slope where the road turns, beyond the hill. Later generations of
little girls appeared to have added nothing to the hair trunk.
Doubtless they had dolls, with dresses and styles of their own, and
trunks of a newer pattern, and had scorned these as being a little out
of date. Even the Pride and the Hope would not have permitted their
dolls to appear in those gowns in public, I thinkat any rate, not in
the best societythough carefully preserving them with a view perhaps
to fancy-dress occasions.
The Joy was not deeply impressed with the hair trunk. Neither its
art nor its sentimental value appealed to her. She had passed something
more than two years in our society, and during most of this period had
imagined herself a horse. A fairly level green place, where she could
race up and down and whinny and snort and roll was about all she
demanded of life; though she had a dolla sort of a horse's
dollwhich at the end of a halter went bounding after her during long
afternoons of violence.
For the Joy we brought down from the attic a little two-wheeled
green doll-buggy, with a phaeton top and a tongue, and this at once
became her chief treasure. She hitched herself to it, flung in her
doll, and went racing up and down, checked up or running free, until
her round, fat face seemed ready to burst, and it became necessary to
explain to her that she had arrived at wherever she was going and must
stand hitched in the shade till she cooled off. It was a drowsy
occupation that summer afternoon. She was presently sitting downas
much as a horse can sit downand just a little later was stretched
among the long grass and clover, forgetful of check-rein and
hitching-post. Later, when the three of them were awake at once, they
possessed themselves of the big barn and explored the stalls and
tumbled about on the remnant of hay that still remained in one of the
mows. Then they discovered the brook, where it flowed clear and cool
among the willows at the foot of the door-yard. It was not deep enough
to be dangerous, and they were presently wading and paddling to their
The brook, in fact, became one of their chief delights. It was never
very warm, but, tempered by August sun and shower, its shady, pleasant
waters were as balm to hot bare legs and burning feet. Flowers of many
kinds grew along its banks, while below the bridge where it crossed the
road there was always a school of minnows eager to be fed, and now and
then one saw something larger dart bysomething dark, torpedo-shaped,
swift, touched with white along its propellersa trout. There is no
end of entertainment in such things. Summer-time, the country, and
childhoodthat is a happy combination, and a bit of running water adds
the perfect touch.
Cap'n Ben has an iron door-sill
We did not take full possession of our place immediately. Whatever
we had in the way of household effects was in a New York City flat, and
one must have a few pots and tin things, even for the simple life.
Fortune was good to us: the Westbury household offered us shelter until
we were ready to make at least a primitive beginning, and one could not
ask better than that. Mrs. Westbury was a famous cook, and Westbury's
religion was conveyed in the word plenty. The hospitality and bounty of
their table were things from another and more lavish generation. The
Joy promptly gave our hosts titles. She called them Man and Lady
Westbury, which somehow seemed exactly to fit them.
Each morning we went up to see what we could find to do, and we
never failed to find plenty. I don't remember distinctly as to all of
Elizabeth's occupations, but I know she has a mania for a broom and a
clothesline. I carry across the years the impression of an almost
continuous sweeping soundan undertone accompaniment to my discussion
with carpenter and painterand I see rows of little unpacked dresses
swinging in the sun.
One of my own early jobs was to clean the cellar. It was a sizable
undertaking, and I engaged Old Pop's Sam to help me. It was a cellar of
the oldest pattern, with no step, having an entrance on a level with
the road, the same being a rollway wide enough to admit barrels of
cider and other produce. I don't know how many had been rolled into it
during the century or so before we came, but after a casual look I
decided that very few had been rolled out. The place was packed to the
doors with barrels, boxes, benches, and general lumber of every
[Illustration: They formed a board of appraisal. All of them knew
that cellar and were intimately acquainted with its contents]
About the time we got started an audience assembled. Old Nat, who
was taking a day off, and 'Lias Mullins, who had a weakness in his back
and took most of his days off, drifted in from somewhere and sat on the
wall in the shade to give us counsel. Then presently W. C. Westbury
drove up and became general overseer of the job. They formed a board of
appraisal, with Westbury as chairman. All of them knew that cellar and
were intimately acquainted with its contents.
I had thought the old collection of value only as kindling, but as
we brought out one selection after another I realized my error.
That, said 'Lias Mullins, is Uncle Joe's pork-barrel. It's wuth a
dollar fifty new, an that one's better 'n new.
I used to help Uncle Joe kill, every year, nodded Old Nat, an' to
put his meat away. I remember that bar'l as well as can be. I'll take
it myself, if you don't want it.
Better keep your barrel, Westbury said. You'll be wanting a pair
of pigs next, and then you'll need it. He looked into it reflectively
and sounded it with his foot. Many a good mess of pork that old
barrel's had in it, he said.
The board's ruling being unanimous, the barrel was set aside. Uncle
Joe's ham-barrel came next, and was likewise recognized, carefully
examined, and accepted by the board. Then two cider-barrels, which
awoke an immediate and special interest.
For cider is the New England staple. Its manufacture and preparation
are matters not to be lightly dismissed. Good seasoned cider-barrels
have a value in no way related to cooperage. It is the flavor, the
bouquet, acquired through a tide of seasons, from apples that grow
sweet and rich through summer sun and shower and find a spicy tang in
the first October frost. Gathered and pressed on the right day; kept in
the right temperature, the mellow juice holds its sweetness and tone
far into the winter, and in the oaken staves leaves something of its
savor to the contents of another year.
That's the best cider-cellar I know of, said 'Lias Mullins, and
Uncle Joe allus had the best bar'ls; but they wa'n't used last year, an
I'm turrible 'fraid they've gone musty.
Shouldn't be su'prised, agreed old Nat, mournfully. An' it's a
Bet you a quarter apiece they're as sweet as ever, proposed
Chairman Westbury. He took out a great jack-knife and carefully pried
out the bungs. Smell 'em, 'Lias, he said, yielding precedence to the
'Lias Mullins carefully steadied himself with his cane, bent close
to the bung-hole of one of the barrels, and took a long and apparently
agreeable whiff. Then after due preparation he bent close to the other
bung-hole and took another and still longer whiff.
Seems to me that one's just a leetle bit musty, he said.
Now, Nat, it's your turn, said Westbury.
Whereupon old Nat, gravely and after due preparation, took a long
whiff of first one barrel, then a still longer one of the other barrel.
Seems to me it's t'other one that's a leetle trifle
musty, he said.
W. C. Westbury took two short business-like whiffs at each bung.
Sweet as a nut, both of 'em, he announced, definitely.
That settled it; Westbury was acknowledged authority. Sam rolled out
two vinegar-barrels, both pronounced good. Following there came what
seemed at least a hundred apple-barrels, potato-barrels,
turnip-barrels, ash-barrels, boxes, benches, sections of shelving, and
a general heap of debris, some of it unrecognizable even by 'Lias
Mullins, oldest member of the board.
It was a Meeker habit to throw nothing away, commented Westbury,
as he looked over the assortment. No matter what it was, they thought
they might want it, some day. You'll find the same thing when you get
to the attic.
At this moment Sam discovered in a dark corner a heap of flat slabs
that, brought to light, proved to be small tombstones. Westbury
Those were put over the cemetery fence, he said, whenever the
relatives bought bigger ones. Uncle Joe brought a lot of them home to
cool his milk on.
I looked at them doubtfully. They were nothing but stones, and they
had served their original purpose. Still, it had been a rather
particular purpose and they were carved with certain names and dates. I
was not sure that their owners might not sometimesome weird fall
evening, saytake a notion to claim them.
They opened the door of history to Westbury. He began to recall
connections and events, and related how a certain Hezekiah Lee, whose
name was on one of them, had decided, some fifty years before, to give
up farming and go to counterfeiting. His career from that moment had
been a busy one; he had been always traveling one way or the other
between affluence and the penitentiary. His last term had been a long
one, and when he got out, styles in national currency had changed a
good deal and Uncle Hezekiah couldn't seem to get the hang of the new
designs. So he took to preaching, and held camp-meetings. He lived to
be eighty-seven, and people had traveled forty miles to his funeral.
I said I would keep Uncle Hezekiah's headstone. In the end we made
an inside walk of the collection, for the old cellar had a dirt floor
and was not always dry, but we laid them face down. When we had raked
and swept, and brushed and put back the articles accepted by the board,
and all was trim and neat, Westbury looked in.
Looks nice, he said, and added, that's what you've got now, but
by and by you'll have your mess of old truck, too, and the next man
will cart a lot of it to the wood-pile, just as you're carting it now.
I said I thought we would begin our career with a coat of whitewash.
Westbury noticed something sticking out from an overhead beam, and drew
out a long-handled wrought-iron toasting-fork. Looking and prying
about, we discovered an old pair of brass snuffers, and a pair of
hand-made wrought-iron shears. The old things were pretty rusty, and I
could see that Westbury did not value them highly, but I would not have
traded them for the pork-barrel and the ham-barrel and all the other
barrels and benches reserved from Uncle Joe's collection. 'Lias
Mullins, inspecting them, became reflective:
Them's from away back in old Ben Meeker's time, he said, or mebbe
furder than that. The' ain't been no scissors made by hand in this
country since my time, an' a good while before. I guess old Ben was a
good hand to have things made. I've heard my father tell that when he
was a boy Cap'n Ben, as they called him, one day found his door-sill
split, an' went to the blacksmith shop an' had one made out of iron.
Father said it was a big curiosity, and everybody went to look at it.
That would be fully a hundred years ago, when the' wasn't so much to
talk about. He said that the biggest piece of news in Brook Ridge for a
good while was that Cap'n Ben had an iron door-sill. It was around
there at the side door. I've seen it many a time, an' for all I know
it's there yet.
We went around there. Sure enough! Cap'n Ben's iron door-sill was
still in place. Brown at the ends, bright and thinner where the step
came, it remained as firmly fixed as when, a hundred years before, it
had supplied the latest bit of gossip to Brook Ridge.
The thought of going back to six rooms and improvements
Peace of mind is a fleeting thing. We began to be harassed with
uncertaintyto suffer with indecision. In buying the old house we had
not at first considered making it a year-round residence, but merely a
place to put some appropriate furnishings, the things we cared for
most, so that we might have them the best part of the yearfrom April,
say, to Thanksgiving. It had not occurred to us that we would cut loose
altogether from the towndynamite our bridges, as it wereand become
a part and parcel of Brook Ridge.
Every day, neighbors stopped to make our acquaintance and learn our
plans. We interested them, for we were the first new-comers for many a
year to that neglected corner of the township. They were the kindest
people in the world, moved, perhaps, less by curiosity than by concern
for our comfort and happiness. They generally wanted to know how we
liked our place, what changes we were going to make in it, and they
never failed to ask if we intended to make it our home or merely a
place for summer-time.
Our replies to the last question, at first definite, became vague
and qualified, then again definite, for we admitted that we did not
know. As a matter of fact, the place was getting hold of us, possessing
us, surrounding us on all sides with its fascinations. It was just an
old house, a few broken acres, and a brookjust some old lumber and
stones, some ordinary trees, some every-day waternot much, perhaps,
to get excited over or to change one's scheme of life. Yet we did get
excited over it, daily, and it had suddenly become a main factor in our
problem of life. The thought of going back to six rooms and
improvements, with clanging bells and crashing wheels, and with an
expanse of dingy roofs for scenery, became daily less attractive. True,
we would have to spend a good deal more money on the old house to fit
it for cold weather, but then there would be the saving in rent.
We began to discuss the matterquietly, even casually, at
firstthen feverishly, positively. We were not always on the same
side, and there were moments when a stranger might have thought our
relations slightly strained. But this would have been to misjudge our
method. We are seldom really violent in argumentthough occasionally
intense. Besides, we were too much of a mind, now, for real
disagreement. We both yearned too deeply to set the old house in
complete order, to establish ourselves in it exclusively and live there
for ever and ever. Think of Christmas in it, we said, with the great
open fires, the snow outside, and a Christmas tree brought in from our
I said at last that I would make a trip to town, go to the flat, and
ship up a few articles for present use. It would be rather more than a
month until our lease expired, and in that time we could decide
something. I secretly intended to send up a number of vital things that
would make return difficult and costly. I was not going to blow up our
entire bridgeI was only going to remove one or two of its necessary
That was what I did. I went in one morning and packed a barrel or
two of important queensware and utensils and a bale of bedding, without
which even the best flat becomes a snare and a mockery. When I had seen
it in the hands of the expressman I had a feeling that our pretty
apartment was no longer home.
I went over to my club for luncheon. A number of my friends were
there, and I seized an auspicious moment to announce my purchase and to
exhibit a bunch of photographs. They were good fellows who showed a
proper interest. Some of them already owned farmssome had farms in
prospect. The artists among them agreed that the old house was a pretty
fair example of its period and began advising me what to do with it.
But, as they did not agree among themselves, the net result was not
valuable. Somebody asked what I was going to plant.
'Rye,' I said.
For some reason everybody laughed.
All rye? What's the matter with planting a little Scotch?
It was not much of a joke, but they seemed to enjoy it. They were
good fellows, as I have said, but I fear rather light-minded.
When I got back to Brook Ridge and confessed, Elizabeth did not seem
surprised. In fact, it was as if I had been merely obeying orders. If
there was any further question as to what we were going to do, I do not
recall it. Our landlord in town was notified, our farmer-carpenter was
consulted as to further alterations. We had definitely cast our
fortunes with Brook Ridge.
The soft feet of the rain on the shingles
When the articles I had chosen from the apartment arrived Westbury
carted them up the hill and we entered into possession of our new
estatenot of the house (some painters had possessed themselves of
that), but of the wood-house and barn. The barn was a big, airy place,
suitable for a summer dormitory. The wood-house was not big, but it was
empty and had been set in order. It had a stove-pipe hole, and Westbury
contributed a stovethe first one ever made, he said, or, at any rate,
the first ever used in that neighborhood. It was a good stove, too,
solidly cast, almost unbreakable. Its legs were gone, which was no
great matter, for we set it up on bricks. With a box for a table, we
had a proper living-room, handy and complete.
Not entirely complete, eitherthe old stove had no pipe. But just
then it happened that the groceryman came along, making one of his two
trips a week. He would deliver during the afternoon, he said, and could
bring along some pipe for us. He did that, but it was a kind of pipe
that didn't fitnot very well.
If there is anything that would make a man forget the Great War it
would be putting up stove-pipe. It seems, somehow, to overshadow all
other misfortunes. Some persons might have enjoyed matching up those
units, but I did not. I have no gift that way. Elizabeth said she would
help, but she didn't seem to use good judgmentnot the best. When I
was making a painfully careful adjustment she was possessed to push a
little, or something, and make my efforts futile. Once when the box I
was standing on tipped over and I came down, with the pipe resolved
into joints, she seemed to think it amusing. At times, too, our tribe
of precious ones came racing through. By the time the job was finished
Elizabeth and I were treating each other rather coollythat is to say,
politely. But this was temporary. The soft purr of a fresh fire, the
pleasant singing of a kettle, set us to laughing at our troubles. Man
Westbury came driving up with some green corn, lettuce, and beans from
the garden; also a chicken and a pie hot from Lady Westbury's oven.
Those blessed neighbors! How good they were to us! In less than no time
the corn and beans were in the pot and I was dressing the lettuce. We
had brought down some of the old chairs from the attic, and the tribe
assembled with a whoop to place them. A little more, and we were
seated. The Hope, aged seven, who had a gift for such things, asked a
blessing, and we had begun life in the new home. I wonder why tears are
trying to come as I write about it. There was never a better meal, or a
jollier onenever a happier, healthier family.
A shower came up and settled into a gentle rain. The barn, where we
were going to sleep, was a good step away, so that when the time came
we put on our rubbers, took our umbrellas and a lantern, and set out
for bed. There was nothing very wonderful about all this, of course; it
only seemed wonderful to us because it was all so new. The Pride and
the Hope declared they were always going to sleep in the barn, and when
we got inside the big, lofty place, and in the gloom overheard heard
the soft feet of the rain on the shingles, I, too, had a deep-down wish
that there was nothing in the world, but thisthat the pleasant night
and soothing patter might never cease.
Truth obliges me to confess that on that first night our bed was not
an entire success. For convenience and economy we had laid it in a
continuous stretch on the floor, with some hay beneath. There being not
enough mattresses for all, I had built an extension of hay for the
elder members of the family. It was the best hay, but I had used it too
sparingly. I suppose I had not realized how, with adjustment, it would
pack and separate. I know it had hardened considerably by the time I
had made one or two turns as a necessary preparation for sleep. I
remarked each time how delightful it all was, to which Elizabeth
agreed, though she had the courage presently to venture that she didn't
think it quite as soft as one of Lady Westbury's feather beds. The
Pride observed that there seemed to be a certain horsey smell that did
not entirely please her, though the Joy, who was probably imagining
herself hitched in one of the stalls, declared that she liked that best
of anything. As for the Hopeclear of conscience and worn with the
riot of the dayshe had plunged without a moment's hesitation into the
blessed business of sleep. It engaged us all, at length, and we must
have become adapted by morning, for when we were all awake and lay in
the dim light, listening to the quiet music of the continuing rain,
there was no voice of discontent. Elizabeth thought it likely that she
was considerably bruised, but, as she made no complaint later, this was
perhaps a false alarm.
When I crept out and pushed open the wide front doors, I found that
the brook had risen and was slipping across the grass of the lower
yard. It had a tempting look, and the rain held all but ceased. I
picked my way down to it, and, hanging my garments on a limb, enjoyed
the richest luxury in the worldthat of bathing in the open air,
sheltered only by the sky and the greenery, in one's own brook and
one's own door-yard. Interlacing boughs, birds singing, the cool,
slipping waterno millionaire could have more. I was heir to the best
the ages had to give.
Elizabeth's ideas were not poetic
We were busy with our new plans. We decided to shingle the roof,
which showed an inclination to leak; also the sides, which in numerous
places besides the windows admitted samples of the outdoors. Such
things did not matter so much in summer-time, but New England in winter
is different. Then the roof and door-yard are piled with snow, the
northwest wind seeks out the tiniest crevice in one's armor. How did
those long-ago people manage? Their walls were not sheeted, and they
did not know the use of building-paper. Our old wide siding had been
laid directly on the bare timbers, the studding; every crevice under
the windows, every crack in the plaster, was a short circuit with zero.
We decided to take off the antique siding, cut out the bad places, and
relay it flat, as sheeting. Over it we would lay building-paper, and on
top of this, good substantial shingles, laid wide to the weather in the
It hurt us to think of covering up that fine original
sidingpriceless stuff, a foot wide and of the softest,
straightest-grained white pine, cut from large trees such as no longer
growbut we did not know what else to do with it. It was a wonderful
antique, but we could not afford to keep a pile of lumber just for
exhibition purposes. I said it ought to be in a museum, and I had some
thought of offering it to the Metropolitan, at a modest valuation, next
time I went to town. Elizabeth discouraged this idea. She suggested
that I have it made up into Brook Ridge souvenirslittle trays and
paper-cuttersa wagon-load or two, then start out and peddle them. The
scheme dazzled me for a moment, but I resisted it. So in the end it
became just sheeting. I did pick out one fine examplea piece with
some of the original red paint still on itand said I meant to have it
framed, but in the course of the work, at a moment when my back was
turned, the carpenter got hold of it, so I fear there is no exposed
scrap of it to-day. It is all there under the shingles, and will still
be there for other shingles when those are gone. The nails that held it
were made by hand, every one of them, and I did save some of those, for
they were really beautiful. But think of the patient labor of making
them. I suppose a skilled and rapid workman could turn out as many as
twenty of those nails in an hour. A detail like that gives one a sort
of measurement of those deliberate days.
We did not always agree as to our improvements. I don t think our
arguments ever became heatedone might characterize them as, well,
ardent. If Elizabeth thought my ideas sometimes wild, not to say crazy,
I don t remember that she ever put it just in that way. If I thought
hers inclined to be prosaic and earthy, I was careful to be out of
range and hearing before I expressed myself. I remember once suggesting
that we do our cooking and heating entirely in the old waythat is to
say, using the fireplaces and the Dutch ovenand was pained to find
that Elizabeth was contemplating a furnace and a kitchen range. She
asked me rather pointedly who I thought was going to get in wood enough
to keep four fireplaces running, and if I fancied the idea of going to
bed in the big north room up-stairs with the thermometer shrinking
It was still August at the moment, and the prospect was not so
disturbing. I said that hardy races always did those things, that the
old builders of this house had probably not minded it at all, and just
see to what great old ages they had lived. I said that as a child I had
even done it myself.
So did I, said Elizabeth; that is why I am not going to do it
She walked out with quite a firm step, and I did not pursue the
matter. I might have done so, but I had a vision, just then, of a boy
who had lived on the Western prairies, in a big box of a house, and had
gone to bed in a room that was about the temperature of the
snow-drifted yard. I could see him madly flinging off a few outer
garments, making a spring into a bed that was like a frozen pond, lying
there in a bunch, getting tolerably warm at last, but all night long
fearful of moving an inch because of his frigid boundaries. As for the
matter of wood, well, I had carried that, too, cords of it, for a
fireplace that had devoured it relentlessly and given nothing adequate
in return. I recalled that in cold weather I had never known what it
was to be warm on both sides at once, that I had scorched my face while
my back was freezing, then turned, like a chicken on a spit, to bake
the other side. Without doubt I had grown used to it, so used to it
that it had never occurred to me that in cold weather any one really
could be warm on both sides at once; also, perhaps, it had hardened me,
Elizabeth's ideas were not poetic; they did not express art for
art's sake; anybody could see that; but, after all, there would be
daysJanuary dayswhen a fireplace alone, however beautiful as an
ornament, would not make enough impression on the family circle, and
scarcely any at all on the up-stairs. Coming up rather quietly somewhat
later, she found me sitting under the big maple, surreptitiously
studying a range and furnace catalogue borrowed of Westbury. We decided
on Acme Hummers and I gave the order to the postman next morning.
Our last night in the barn was not like the others
We lived a full week in the wood-house and barn, a week that is
chiefly memorable to me now because of the kindness of our neighbors.
I wonder if in every New England neighborhood new-comers are treated
as we were. It was high garden season, and I think not a day passed,
that at least one basket of sweet corn, beans, lettuce, and such noble
things was not set at our doors.
From all about they came, and how sweet and fresh they were! There
had been no lack of showers that summer, and gardens were at their
best. Nothing is so good as sweet corn, freshly picked and put in the
pot. We had never really had enough of it before. Now we had to strain
our appetites to keep up with the supply. And lima beans, and buttered
beets, and cucumbers and crisp salads, and fresh cabbage slaw! Dear me!
Why must any one have to stay in town where all those things are
scarce, and costly, and days old, and wilted, when he can go to the
country and have them fresh and abundant from the gardenof his
Some of the offerings were really artistic, prettily arranged, and
garnished with flowers. Old Nat of the whitewash came one evening with
a huge round basket, in the center of which was a big yellow pumpkin,
the first of his crop, and ranged about it ears of corn, big red
tomatoes, and heads of lettuce, the whole like some wonderful great
flower. But then Nat was always an artist at heart.
Our last night in the barn was not like the others. We had become
very comfortable there, for we had built our hay higher, and we had
learned the art of resting in that processional fashion, while the big,
airy place and the patter of the not infrequent rain had grown dear to
us. But that last night was different. It rained, as usual, but it did
something more. I had been asleep an indeterminable time when I was
aroused by a crash of thunder that for a moment I thought had taken off
the roof. In the glimmer of lightning that followed I realized that
Elizabeth was awakealso the Pride, aged twelve.
It was the sort of storm to make one sit up on his elbow. Elizabeth
sat up on hers, and declined to lie back even when assured that it
would be easier for the lightning to hit her in that half-erect
position. The Pride began asking persistently if the barn was going to
be struck. The Joy, who was next me, suddenly grabbed my arm and clung
like a burr, saying nothing. The Hope, secure in the knowledge of an
upright life, aided by a perfect digestion, slept as one in a trance,
while the fierce pounding grew more alarming as flash followed flash
and the crashes came more promptly and forcibly on the heels of every
flare. I don't think I was exactly afraid, but I could not altogether
forget the tradition that lightning has a mania for striking barns and
it was this that had occurred to Elizabeth. She said she had been
reading of storms like this in Jamaica, and that invariably they had
struck barns, though whether she meant Jamaica of southern waters or
the pretty suburb on Long Island by that name I have not learned to
There was no wind, but all at once, at the very height of things,
when the flashes and the crashes came together and the very sky seemed
about to explode, one of our wide barn doors swung slowly, silently
open, as if moved by a spirit hand, and at the same instant there came
a blaze and roar that fairly filled the barn. A moment later the great
door silently closed; then once more opened to let in a blinding,
[Illustration: I made about three leaps and grabbed it, and a
second later had it hooked and was back, the lightning at my heels]
I could tell by what Elizabeth said that the big door ought to be
shut and securely fastened. I made about three leaps and grabbed it,
and a second later had it hooked and was back, the lightning at my
heels. Then the clouds must have upset, for there came a downpour that
fairly drowned the world.
But the artillery was passing. Soon flash and roar came farther
apart and modified by distance. Nothing was left at last but a soothing
rumble and the whisper of the receding rain. We slept, and woke to find
ourselves rich, in sunlight, blue sky, and overflowing rain-barrels.
This made it washday for Elizabeth and the tribe, and presently all the
lines were full. It was a glorious storm, but that afternoon we moved
our sleeping-arrangements to the house. The painters had finished
up-stairs, and there was no purpose in exposing ourselves to storms
which for all we knew, came straight from Jamaica, where they had a
mania for hitting barns.
At the threshold of the past
I wonder if you are anything like as anxious to get into our old
attic as we were. That is not likely. To us it meant romance, even a
kind of sorcerya bodily transmigration into the magic past.
Now and then during those August days we would open the door below
and look up, perhaps even climb the stair and peer around a little,
possessed by the spell of it, deterred only by our immediate affairs
and the heat.
Then at last came a day, a cool Sunday when it was raining softly,
and the tribe were having a perfectly lovelly time in the
barn, Elizabeth and I climbed the rickety stairway to the Land of the
Long Ago. There could be no better time for itthe quiet rain
overhead, no workmen, no likelihood of visitors.
At the top of the stair we hesitated and looked about with something
of the feeling that I suppose the Egyptian explorer had when he looked
into the furnished tomb of Queen Thi. We were at the threshold of the
A small window at each end gave light in plenty. There was a good
deal of dust, and there were some cobwebs in the corners, but these did
not disturb us. Only, we were a little bewildered by the extent of our
possessions. We hardly knew where to begin.
At first we picked our way about rather aimlessly, pointing to this
thing and that, our voices subdued. There were all the high-backed
chairsfourteen, we counted, with those already carried down. Most of
them would need new rush bottoms and black paint, but otherwise they
had withstood the generations. They were probably a part of the old
house's original furnishingthese and at least one of the
spinning-wheels, of which there were four, the large kind, used for
spinning wool; also the reel for winding yarn. Then we noticed a low
wooden cradle, darkened with age, its sides polished by the hands that
had rocked itthat had come next, no doubt. We remarked that one of
the spinning-wheels was considerably smaller than the othersa child's
wheel. We thought it might have come later, when one of the early
occupants of the cradle had been taught to do her stint. It made a
small, plaintive noise when I turned it, and I could see a little
old-fashioned girl in linsey-woolsey dress and home-made shoes and
stockings, in front of the big fireplace down-stairs, turning and
turning to that droning cadence, through long winter afternoons. Those
other wheels had come for other daughters, or daughters-in-law, and if
there ever was a time when all four were going at once, the low, long
room must have been a busy place.
From a nail in a rafter hung a rusty tin lantern, through the
patterned holes of which a single candle had once sprinkled with light
the progress of the farmer's evening chores. That, too, had belonged to
the early time, and from a dim corner I drew another important piece of
furniture of that day. At first this appeared to be a nest of wooden
chopping-bowls, oblong as to shape and evidently fashioned by hand.
Then remembering something that Westbury had told me, I recognized
these bowls as trenchers, the kind used in New England when pioneer
homes were rather short in the matter of tableware. The trencher stood
in the middle of the table and contained the dinneroftenest a boiled
dinner, I supposeand members of the family helped themselves from
itI hesitate to say with their fingers, but evidence as to table
cutlery in the pioneer home of that period is very scanty. And, after
all, if they had no plates, what need of cutlery? Their good, active
fingers and stout teeth were made before knives and forks, and they did
not enjoy their dinner the less for having it in that intimate way. I
confess a sneaking weakness myself for an informal chicken bone or
spare-ribfor most anything of the sort, in fact, that I can get a
fairly firm hold of. It is better, of course, to have a handle to one's
gravy, and sometimes, when the family is looking the other way, I can
manage a swipe with a slice of bread, and so get a brief golden sample
of the joys of my ancestors. The two smaller trenchers must have been
used when company cameone for the bread, possibly; the other for
pudding. I hope it was good, firm pudding, so that it could be managed
We found the kettle that they made the boiled dinner in, an enormous
three-legged witch-pot, also a number of big iron crane hangers, for
swinging vessels above the open fire. And there were three gridirons of
different patterns, for grilling meat over the coalsone of them round
with a revolving top, another square, sloping, with a little trough at
the bottom to catch the juice of a broiling steak. Elizabeth agreed
that we might use those sometimes and I set them over by the stair. We
were not delving deeply, not by any meansjust picking off the
nuggets, as it were. It would be weeks before we would know the full
extent of our collection.
Pushed back under the eaves there were what appeared to be several
cord bedsteads, not the high-posted kindthat would have been too
much to expectbut the low, home-made maple bedsteads such as one
often sees to-day in New England, shortened up into garden seats. There
were, in fact, seven of them, as we discovered later. They would be of
the early period, too, and probably had not been used for a good
But it was the item we discovered next that would take rank, I
think, in the matter of age. At the moment we did not understand it at
all. It was a section of a hickory-tree, about fifteen inches through
and two feet high, hollowed out at the top to a depth of nearly a foot.
It was smooth inside and looked as if something had been pounded in it,
as in a mortar. Presently we came upon a long, heavy hickory mallet,
tapering at one end, smoothly rounded at the other. It had a short
handle, and we thought it might have been a sort of pestle for the big
mortar. But what had those old people ground in it?
Westbury told us later; it had been their mill. By a slow, patient
process they had macerated their corn in it until it was fine enough
The old hand-mill would undoubtedly take priority in the matter of
antiquity. Those early settlers could do without beds and chairs and
trenchers and cradles, even without spinning-wheels for a time, but
they must very quickly have breadcorn, and a place to grind it. I
think the old mill was older than the house. I think it came almost
with the earliest camp-fire.
The articles thus far mentioned were all in one end of the attic. We
were by no means through when we turned to the other end, the space
beyond the great chimney. Here under the eaves were piles of yellow
periodicalsreligious papers, the New York Tribune, and those
weekly story-papers whose thrilling romances of real life, like
Parted at the Altar and The Lost Heir of Earlecliffe, were so
popular with those young ladies of slender waists and sloping shoulders
who became our grandmothers. I think none of the numbers dated farther
back than the early forties of the last century, and they were not very
inviting, for they were dusty and discolored and the mice had gnawed
holes in the career of Lord Reginald and the sorrows of Lady Maude.
But there were better things than thesejugs, jars, and bottles of
marvelous patterns, and a stone churn, and some pewter and luster
teapots, damaged somewhat, it is true, but good for mantel decoration
over our fireplaces, and there were some queer old bandboxes,
ornamented with flowers and landscapes, and finally two small wooden
chests and a fascinating box of odds and ends, metal things, for the
We looked into the bandboxes. Some of them were empty, but in others
were odds and ends of finery and quaint examples of millinery, the
turban and poke and calash of vanished generations, some of them
clearly copied after the model worn by Lady Maude at the very moment
when at the church door she turned haughtily from Lord Crewston
forever. We drew the chests to the light and took out garments of
several sorts and of a variety of fashions. There were dresses of
calico and delaine of the Civil War days, a curious cape which we
thought had been called a circular, a pretty silk apron with a bib,
once precious to some young girl. Some of the waists were very slim,
closely following the outlines of Lady Maude. Others were
differentoh, very much so. I think these were of an earlier period,
for among other things there were a number of garments made of stout,
hand-woven linen, embroidered with initials which had not belonged to
the house for nearly a century. I hope they were not a part of a bridal
outfit, for no bride, no really popular bride, ought to be as ample as
must have been the owner of those chgarments, I mean. One of them,
opened out, would be quite wide enough for a sheet, Elizabeth said,
though somewhat lacking in length. She thought they would do for single
beds, turned the other way. There were sturdy women in those days.
In the bottom of the chest there was a pair of red and very pointed
dancing-slippers. I don't think they belonged to the same person.
Neither did they belong to the period of Lady Maude, being much older.
They were very small and slim, and daintily made. Where had such pretty
feet found floors on which to dance?
We laid them back with the other things where they had been put such
a long time ago, and turned to the box of odds and ends. There were
knobs and latches and keysall of the old patterna hand-made
padlock, some flat wrought hinges and some hand-wrought nails, left,
perhaps, after the house was built. We sat flat on the floor to paw
over these curious things, and the dull light, and the rain just
overhead, certainly detracted nothing from our illusions. Every little
piece in that box seemed to us a treasure. The old hinges would go on
our new closet doors, held by the hand-made nails. The padlock was for
the outside cellar door. The knobs would replace certain reproductions
on some of our antique furniture. We knew what such things cost at the
shops and how hard they were to find. And just then Elizabeth came upon
a plated-silver buckle, and then upon anothera pair of themold shoe
or garter buckles, we could not be sure which. Why, our attic was a
regular treasure island!
We picked out a number of things that seemed of special interest,
including an iron crane we had found, and carried them down-stairs. The
crane fitted the fireplace in the smaller room, which was to become our
kitchen. We hung it and kindled a fireour first real fire, for it was
our first cool day. There was litter on the floor, but we did not mind
it. We looked into the cheerful blaze, handled over the trifles we had
found, and in quiet voices spoke of the past. During our two hours or
so in the old attic we had been in step with the generations. We had
broken bread at the camp-fire of the pioneer; we had seen him build his
house and provide it with the simple, durable furnishings of his day;
we had shared the easy comfort of his hearty board; we had drawn near
to his good wife as she rocked the cradle or sat spinning in the
firelight; we had watched their descendants attain prosperity and a
taste for finery; we had seen how they had acquired fashion and in time
had patterned their gowns, their bonnets, perhaps even their romances
upon models of Lady Maude. They were all gone now, leaving us to carry
on the story. We also would go our way; others would follow us, and
they, too, would pass. It was a moment to look into the fire and think
long, long thoughts.
Paper-hanging is not a natural gift
One day I measured up our walls, and the next I went to town and
bought the paper that was to cover them. I think it generally pays to
do that, provided you can get somebody to hang it. There is a very
pretty margin in wall-paper, and when you get a good deal of it that
margin gnaws into one's substance. Shopping around the department
stores, picking up remnant bargains, is the thing. I ran onto a lot of
bedroom paper of a quaint chintzy pattern at four cents a roll, or
about one-fifth what it would have cost in the regular way. I took
enough of it for all the upper rooms, with some to spare, and was sorry
there were not more rooms, so I could take it all. Then I found a
gorgeous remnant of the glazed-tile variety for the kitchen, and still
another for our prospective bath-room. A dull-green cartridge-paper for
our living-room, best room, and my tiny study behind the chimney cost
me eighteen cents a roll. The total bill was sixteen fifty-nine, and I
got at least twice the pleasure out of the size of that bill that I
would have had in earning double the sum in the time I spent. Figure
out the profit in that transaction if you can. Whatever it was, it was
satisfactory, and indeed few things in life are sweeter than the
practice of our pet and petty economies. We all have them. I once knew
a very rich man who would light a match and race from one gas-jet to
another until he burnt his fingers, lighting as many as he could before
striking a second match. He would generally say something when his
fingers began to smoke, but to have lighted all the jets at both ends
of his long room was a triumph that made this brief inconvenience of
small account. I have also seen him spend more time, and even money,
utilizing some worn-out appliance than a new one would cost. He was not
a stingy man, either, not by any means, but those things were ingrained
and vital. They helped to provide his life with interest and
satisfactionhence, were worth while.
To go back to the papering: I bought some toolsthat is to say, a
paste-brush, and a smoothing-down brush, and a long pair of scissors,
for I had a suspicion that my painters would be at their fall farming
presently, in which case Westbury, who I was satisfied could do
anything, had agreed to beautify our walls.
As a matter of fact, I hung most of that sixteen dollars and
fifty-nine cents' worth of paper myself. When I got back, my painters
were about to begin cutting their corn. Westbury came, but at the end
of the first day, when one of the up-stairs rooms was about finished,
he also developed a violent interest in corn-cutting. I was thus
abandoned to fate, also quite deserted. My carpenters were cutting
corn; Luther Merrill, my handsome plowman, was cutting corn; Old Pop
and Sam were cutting corn; while Elizabeth had gone to the apartment in
town to begin preparations for moving, and to put the Pride and the
Hope into school. I was alonealone with sixteen dollars' worth of
paper, a big, flat paste-brush, and my bare, bare walls.
Meantime I had trimmed some of the strips for Westbury and had given
some slight attention to his artistic method. It looked rather easy,
and there was still half a pail of paste. In some things I am
impulsive, even daring. With a steady hand, I measured, cut off, and
trimmed a strip of the pretty chintzy paper, laid it face down on the
papering-board which Westbury had made, slapped on the paste with a
free and business-like dash, folded up the end just as Westbury did,
picked it up with an easy, professional swing, and started for the
Being a tall man, I did not need the step-ladder. In those low rooms
I could quite easily stand on the floor and paper from the ceiling
down. Certainly that was an advantage. I discovered, however, that a
step-ladder is not all of a paper-hanger's gifts. When I matched that
piece of paper at the ceiling and started down with it, I realized
presently that it was not going in the direction of the floor. At least
not directly. It was slanting off at a bias to the southeast, leaving a
long, lean, wedge-shaped gap between it and the last strip. I pulled it
off and started again, shifting the angle. But I overdid the thing.
This time it went biasing off in the other direction and left an untidy
smudge of paste on Westbury's nice, clean strip. I reflected that this
would probably dry outif not, I would hang a picture over it. Then I
gave the strip I was hanging a little twitch, being a trifle annoyed,
perhaps, by this time, and was pained to see that an irregular patch of
it remained on the wall, while the rest of it fell sloppily into my
hands. It appeared that wall-paper became tender with damp paste on it
and should not be jerked about in that nervous way. In seeking to
remove the ragged piece from the plaster, holding up the mutilated
strip meanwhile, something else occurred, I don't quite know what, but
I suddenly felt a damp and gluey mess on my face, and then it was
around my neck, and then I discovered that a portion of it had in some
way got tangled up with my legs, upon which I think I became rather
positive, for I seem to have wadded up several gooey balls of chintzy
decoration and hurled them through the open window, far out upon the
I went below and washed up, and for a time sat under the maple shade
and smoked. When more calm I said: This is nothingit is only a first
lesson. Paper-hanging requires probationary study and experiment. It is
not a natural gift, an extempore thing like authorship and song. I have
paper enough to afford another lesson. This time I shall consider
deeply and use great care.
I went back and prepared another strip, humbly and without any
attempt at style. This time, too, I did not consider the line of the
ceiling, but conformed to the vertical edge of Westbury's final strip,
allowing my loose section to dangle like a plumb-line several moments
before permitting it to get its death-grip on the wall. I will not say
that this second attempt was an entire success, but it was a step in
that direction. With a little smudging, a slight wrinkle or two, and a
small torn place, it would do, and I was really quite pleased with
myself when I observed it from across the room and imagined a kindly
bureau just about in that spot.
I hung another strip, and another. Some went on very well, some with
heavy travail, and with results that made me grateful for our pictures
and furniture. Yet it became fascinating work; it was like piecing out
some vast picture-puzzle, one that might be of some use when finished.
I improved, too. I was several days finishing the up-stairs, and by the
time I got it done I had got back some of the dash I started off with.
I could slap on the paste and swing the strip to the wall so handily
that I was sorry Elizabeth was not there to observe me.
I went below and papered the kitchen. There were a lot of little
shelves and cubby-nooks there, but they were only a new and pleasant
variation to the picture-puzzle. I did the small room off the kitchen,
including the ceiling, which was a new departure and at first
discouraging. I was earning probably as much as a dollar and a half a
day and I was acquiring at least that much in vanity and satisfaction,
besides learning a new trade which might come handy in a day of need. I
had some thought of proposing to Westbury a partnership in general
paper-hanging and farming, with possibly an annex of antiques.
There is nothing I wouldn't do for a beea reasonable bee
Matters did not go so well in the living-room. It was not because
the old walls were more irregular there than elsewhereI could
negotiate thatit was those pesky bees. Reshingling the sides of the
house had closed their outlets, and they had now found a crevice
somewhere around the big chimney and were pouring in and out, whizzing
and buzzing around the room by the hundred, clinging to the windows in
droves, a maddening distraction on a hot afternoon to a man with his
head tipped back, in the act of laying a long, flimsy strip of
wall-paper on a wavy, billowy old ceiling. They were no longer vicious
and dangerousthey were only disorganized and panic-stricken. A
hundred times a day I swept quantities of them from the windows and
released them to the open air. It was no use to shut the doors, for
there still were pecks of them between the floor and ceiling, and these
came pouring out steadily, while those that I had dismissed hurried
back again as soon as they could get their breath. I began to think we
had met disaster in this unexpected quarterthat those persistent
little colonists were going to dispossess us altogether.
Old Nat and I had tried smoking them with sulphur, which had quieted
them temporarily while the men were shingling, but it had in no way
discouraged them. In fact, I think there is nothing that will
discourage a bee but sudden death, and that seems a pity, for in his
proper sphere he is one of our most useful citizens.
He is so wise, so wonderfully skilled and patient. I have read
Maeterlinck's life of him, and there is nothing I would t do for a
beea reasonable beeone that would appreciate a little sound advice.
That's just the troublea bee isn't built that way. He is so smart and
capable, and such a wonder in most things, that he won't discuss any
matter quietly and see where he is wrong and go his way in peace. Those
bees thought that, just because they had found a hole in the outside of
an old house, it was their house, and if anybody had to move it
wouldn't be they. I explained the situation over and over and begged
them to go away while the weather was still warm and the going good,
but they just whizzed and raged around the rooms and sickened me with
their noise and obstinacy.
When Elizabeth and the Joy came up, school matters being arranged,
we decided, among other things, to evict those bees. There was just one
way to do it, Westbury said, which was to saw through the floor
up-stairs and take them out. He thought there would be some honey. We
did not count much on that; what we wanted was to be rid of the pests
forever. I sent word to our carpenter, and Henry Jones came one morning
with his saws.
In a corner of the upper room where we had heard a great buzzing he
bored a hole through the flinty oak floors. I had the smoker ready and
pumped the sulphur fumes in pretty freely. Then he began to saw. He had
gone only a little way when he said:
My saw is running in honey.
Sure enough, it was coated with the clear sticky substance, which
certainly did not make it run any easier. By hard work he managed to
cut across two of the wide boards, and through them again, adjoining
the next joist. When he was ready to lift out I pumped a new supply of
smoke into the holes, then rather gingerly we pried up the pieces.
What a sight it was! Covered by a myriad of stupefied bees was layer
upon layer of pure honey, the frightened insects plunging into the
cells, filling themselves with their own merchandise, as is their habit
when alarmed. Lazarus, a small colored assistant whom we had recently
acquired, peered in cautiously (the sulphur fumes being still
suggestive, with a good many bees flying), and I sent him for something
to put the honey insomething large, I saida dishpan.
But Elizabeth had no great faith in our bee investigations, or she
may have been inclined to discount Lazarus. She sent a porcelain dish,
which I filled with a few choice pieces.
Tell her this is just a sample, and to send the dishpan.
But still she thought either I or Lazarus was excited, and sent only
an agate stew-pan, which I also filled.
Take it down, Lazarus, and tell her that we still need the
So then at last it came up, and we filled that, too.
We were not through, however. There was a heavy buzzing near the
center of the room, and again we bored and smoked and sawed, and
presently uncovered another swarm, with another surplus stock, this
time a wash-boiler full, most of it fine and white, though some of the
pieces were discolored, showing age. Elizabeth left her occupations and
came up to investigate. Our old house had proven a regular honey-mine.
We had enough for an indefinite period, and some for the neighbors. I
suppose if we had left an outside hole for those bees they would have
gone on multiplying and eventually would have packed our floors and
walls solid full of honey, and we should have had, in truth, the very
sweetest house in all the world.
I confess we felt sorry for those poor bees. A quantity of them
refused to leave the premises and persisted on squeezing into the house
if a door or window was left open. A clot of them formed on an old
fence-postaround their queen, perhapsand would not go away, though
they knew quite well we had hardened our hearts against them and would
not relent. If I had it to do over again I would bring down an old hive
made from a hollow log, which we found up in the attic, and put into it
some honey and some comb and invite them to set up business again in a
small way. But my wounds were too fresh. They had daubed some of my new
paper, driven me nearly frantic with their commotion, and stung me in
several localities. The old fence-post was quite loose. In the evening
I softly lifted it out, carried it to a remote place, and left it, just
as any other heartless person would drop an unwelcome kitten. When I
passed that way the following spring they were gone.
A last word about our papering. To this day I am proud of the job
and don't wish to dismiss it in any casual way. I left our square
best room till the last; it made a dramatic ending.
I believe I have not mentioned before that I washed down the old
plaster with a solution of vinegar (a remnant from one of Uncle Joe's
barrels) in order to kill the lime, which, Westbury said, was bad for
the sticking qualities of the paste. Perhaps I made my solution a bit
too strong for the best"-room walls, or it may be that the plaster
there was differentI don t know. I know that I worked till nearly
midnight to get done, Elizabeth holding a pair of lamps, and that when
we came down next morning to admire our beautiful green walls by
daylight, they were no longer greenat least, not solidly so, not
definitely so. What seemed to us at first a sorrowful mottled complaint
in yellow had every-where broken through, and I had the sickening
feeling that my work was wasted and must be done over. But presently
Elizabeth said, reflectively:
It isn't so bad just as it is.
And I said, Why, no! it's a kind of a pattern.
And then we both said, Why, it's really artistic and beautiful.
And so it was. Over the dull green a large, irregular lacework of
dull yellow had spread itself, and the more we looked the better we
liked it. Just why the chemical affinity between plaster and paper
should produce that particular effect we could not imagine, but there
it was and there it stayed, for the process did not go any farther.
Later on, when our furniture and pictures were in place, visitors used
to say, Wherever did you get that wonderful paper? If they
were true friends and worthy, we told them. Otherwise we would vaguely
hint of a special pattern, and that there was no more to be had of the
There was a place we sometimes visited to see the trout
I suppose about the most beautiful thing in life is novelty. In it
is the chief charm of youth and travel and honeymoons. I will not say
it is the most valuable thing there is, and it is likely to be about
the most transient. But while it lasts it is precious, and inspiring
No other autumn could ever be quite like that first one of our new
possession, none could ever have the halo and the bloom of novelty that
made us revel in all the things we could do and moved us to undertake
them all. Days to come would be more peaceful and abundantly
satisfying, happier, even, in the fullness of accomplishment, but never
again would we know quite the thrill that each day brought during our
first golden September at Brook Ridge.
To begin with, it was September, and golden. The rains of August had
ceased and their lavish abundance had filled brook and river and left
the world a garden of wild aster and goldenrod, with red apples
swinging from the trees, massed umbels of dark elderberries, and pink
and purple grapes ripening in the sun. Our satisfaction with everything
was unbounded. A New England farm, with its brook and springs and gray
walls and odd corners, seemed to us, of all possessions, the most
desirable. We took long walks through our quiet woods where there were
hickory and chestnut trees, and oaks and hemlocks, and slender white
birches that were like beautiful spirits, and tall maples, and even
apple-trees, wild seedlings, planted by the birds, but thrifty and
bearing. We had never seen that in the West. The fruit was not very
tender, but well flavored and made delicious sauce.
Why, it must be the Garden of Eden, we said, if the apple-tree
We carried baskets and gathered in infinite variety. Apples,
hickory-nuts, berries, mushroomsespecially mushrooms, for we were
fond of them and had carefully acquainted ourselves with the deadly
kinds. Those, by the way, are all that one needs to know. All the
others may be eaten. Some of them may taste like gall and wormwood, or
living and enduring fire, and an occasional specimen may make the
experimenter feel briefly unwell, but if he will acquaint himself with
the virulent amanita varieties, and shun them, he will not dienot
from poison. I do not guarantee against indigestion.
We would bring home as many as seventeen sorts of those edible
toadstools, beautiful things in creamy white, brown, purple, yellow,
coral, and vivid scarlet, and get out our Book of a Thousand Kinds, and patiently identify them, tasting for the flavor and sometimes
getting a hot one or a bitter one, but often putting as many as a dozen
kinds into the chafing-dish. Even if the result was occasionally a bit
woodsy as to savor, we did not mind much, not in those days of
novelty, though Elizabeth did once think she felt a little dizzy
after an unusually large collection, and I had a qualm or two myself.
But when we looked up and found that mushroom poison does not begin to
destroy for several hours, we fell to discussing other matters, and did
not remember our slight inconvenience until long after we should have
been dead, by the book limitation.
There was a gap in the stone wall where we passed from our land into
Westbury's, and beyond it an open place that was a mushroom-garden.
Green and purple russulas grew there as if they had been planted, beds
of coral-hued Tom Thumbs that were like strawberries, and a big,
bitter variety of boletus, worthless but beautiful, having the size and
appearance of a piea meringue pie, well browned. A path led to
another garden where in a hidden nook we one day discovered a quantity
of chanterelles that were like wonderful black morning-glories. It was
duskily shaded there, and through the flickering green we noticed a
vivid, red spot that was like a flame. We pushed out to it and came
upon a tiny, silent brook slipping through a bed of cowslip and
water-arum, and at its margin a scarlet cardinal-flower, burning a star
upon the afternoon.
There was a place which we sometimes visited to see the trout. You
crossed the bean-lot and came to a little secluded land where there
were slim cedars and grass and asters and goldenrod, a spot so still
and unvisited that it was like a valley that one might find in a dream.
Our brook flowed through it and in one place there was a quiet pool and
an overhanging rock. Willows and alders sheltered it, and if you
slipped through without noise and lay very still, you were pretty sure
to see a school of trout, for it was their favorite haunt. Once we
counted twenty-two there, lying head up-stream, gently fanning their
tails and white-edged fins. They were a handsome lot, ranging in size
from eight to twelve inches, and we would not have parted with them for
the cost of the farm.
The precious ones joined in some of these excursions, but our
diversions were too tame for them, as a rule. Wading, racing up and
down, tumbling on the hay, with now and then a book in the shade, was
more to their liking. When the two older ones had gone to school and
the Joy was with us alone, she invented plays of her own, plays in
which a capering horsethat is to say, herselfhad the star part.
Once I found her sitting by a tub of water, sailing a wonderful boat in
itone that she had made for herself, out of a chip and a nail, using
a stone for a hammer. She wore one of the antique bonnets brought down
from the attic, and seemed lost in contemplation of her handiwork.
Without her noticing, I made a photograph. How it carries me back,
I have mentioned our varied undertakings. When wild grapes ripened
on the roadside wallsthe big, fragrant wild grapes of New Englandwe
made a real business of gathering them. They were in endless quantity,
three colorspink, purple, and whiteand their rich odor betrayed
them. Placing some stones in the brook one afternoon, I became
conscious of a thick wave of that sweet perfume, and, looking up,
discovered a natural trellis of clusters just above my head. I don't
know how many bushels we gathered in all, or how many quarts of jelly
and jam and sweet wine we made. I found in the attic, which we named
our Swiss Family Robinson, because it was provided with everything we
needed, an old pair of pressers, and squeezed out grape juice and
elderberry juice and blackberry juice, while Elizabeth stirred and
boiled and put away, for we were New England farmers now, and were
going to do all the things, and have preserves and nuts and apples laid
away for winter. How we workedplayed, I mean, for with novelty one
does not work, but becomes a child again, and plays. And the more toys
we can find, and the longer we can make each one last, the happier and
better and younger we shall be.
There is compensation even for moving
On the 1st of October we moved. Ah, me! How easily one may dismiss
in words an epic thing like that. Yet it is better so. Moves, like
earthquakes, are all a good deal alike, except as to size and the
extent of destruction. Few care for the details. I still have an
impression of two or three nightmarish days that began with some
attempt at real packing and ended with a desperate dropping of anything
into any convenient box or barrel or bureau drawer, and of a final
fevered morning when two or more criminals in the guise of moving-men
bumped and scraped our choicest pieces down tortuous stairways and
slammed them into their cavernous vans, leaving on the pavement certain
unsightly, disreputable articles for every passer-by to scorn.
It is true that this time we had a box-carwe had never before
risen to that dignityand I recall a weird traveling to and fro with
the vans, and intervals of anguish when I watched certain precious, and
none too robust, examples of the antique fired almost bodily into its
deeper recesses. Oh, well, never mind; it came to an end. Our goods
arrived at the Brook Ridge station, and Westbury and his teams
transported themnot to the house, but to the barn, for among other
things in Brook Ridge we had unearthed an old cabinet-maker whom we had
engaged for the season to put us in order before we set our possessions
in place. He erected a bench in the barn, and there for a month he
glued and scraped and polished and tacked, and as each piece was
finished we brought it in and tried it in one place and another,
discovering all over again how handsome it was, restored and polished,
and now at last in its proper setting.
There was compensation even for moving in getting settled in that
progressive way, each evening marking a step toward completion. When
our low book shelves were ranged in the spaces about the walls, the
books wiped and put into them; when our comfortable chairs were drawn
about the fireplaces; when our tall clock with a shepherdess painted on
the dial had found its place between the windows and was ticking
comfortablywe felt that our dream of that first day was coming true,
and that the reality was going to be even better than the dream.
[Illustration: Sometimes at the end of the day, as I sat by the
waning embers, and watched her moving to and fro between me and the
fading autumn fields]
Of course the old living-room was the best of all. Its length and
low ceiling and the great fireplace would insure that. We had ranged a
row of blue plates, with some of the ancient things from the attic,
along the narrow mantel, and it somehow seemed as if they had been
there from the beginning. The low double windows were opposite the
fireplace. We had our large table there, and between meal-times the Joy
liked to spread her toys on it. She wore her hair cut in the Dutch
fashion, and sometimes at the end of the day, as I sat by the waning
embers and watched her moving to and fro between me and the fading
autumn fields, I had the most precious twilight illusion of having
stepped backward at least a hundred years.
We thought our color scheme good, and I suppose there is really no
better background for old mahogany than dull green. Golden brown is
handsome with it, and certain shades of blue, but there is something
about the green with antique furniture that seems literally to give it
a soul. Never had our possessions shown to such an advantage (no pun
intended, though they did shine) and never, we flattered ourselves, had
the old house been more fittingly appointed. With the pictures and
shades put up, the rugs put down, and the fires lit, it seemed to us
just about perfect. It was a jewel, we thought, and to-day, remembering
it, I think so still.
There is work about making apple-butter
Perhaps I am making it all sound too easy and comfortable. The past
has a way of submerging its sorrows. With a little effort, however, I
can still recall some of them. Our transition period was not all picnic
and poetry. There were days of stresshard, nerve-racking days when it
seemed that never in the wide world would things get into shapeas
when, for instance, the new kitchen range arrived and would not go
through any of the kitchen doors; when our grandfather clock had been
found an inch too tall for any of our rooms; when our big fireplace had
poured out smoke until we were blind and asphyxiated. Any one of these
things would be irritating, and coming together, as they did, one
gloomy, chilly morning, they had presented an aspect almost of failure.
Then, being resolute and in good health, we proceeded to correct
matters. We stripped the range for action, took out a sash, and brought
it in edgewise through a window. We mortised down an inch into the
flinty oak floor and let in the legs of the old clock so that its top
ornament would just clear the ceiling.
The fireplace problem was more serious. We knew that the chimney was
big enough, for we could look up it at a three-foot square of sky, and
our earlier fires had given us no trouble. We solved the mystery when
we threw open an outside door to let out the smoke. The smoke did not
go out; it rushed back to the big fireplace and went up the chimney,
where it belonged. We understood, thenin the old days air had poured
in through a hundred cracks and crevices. Now we had tightened our
walls and windows until the big chimney could no longer get its breath.
It must have a vent, an air-supply which must come from the outside,
yet not through the room.
Here was a chance for invention. I went down cellar to reflect and
investigate. I decided that a stove-pipe could be carried from a small
cellar window to the old chimney base, and by prying up the thick stone
hearth we could excavate beneath it a passage which would admit the
pipe to one end of the fireplace, where it could be covered and made
sightly by a register. Old Pop came with his crowbar and pick, and
Westbury brought the galvanized pipe and the grating. It was quite a
strenuous job while it lasted, but it was the salvation of our big
fireplace, and I was so proud of the result that I did not greatly mind
the mashed foot I got through Old Pop's allowing the thousand-pound
stone hearth to rest on it while he attended to another matter.
I have given the details of this non-smoke device because any one
buying and repairing an old house is likely to be smoked out and might
not immediately stumble upon the simple remedy. I know when later, at
the club, I explained it to an architectural friend, he confessed that
the notion had not occurred to him, adding, with some shame, that he
had more than once left a considerable crack under a door as an
So these troubles passed, and others in kind and variety. Those were
busy days. We were doing so many things, we hardly had time to enjoy
the fall scenery, the second stage of it, as it were, when the
goldenrod and queen's-lace-handkerchief were gone, the blue wild asters
fading, and leaves beginning to fall, though the hilltops were still
ablaze with crimson and gold. Once we stole an afternoon and climbed a
ridge that looked across a valley to other ridges swept by the flame of
autumn. It was really our first wide vision of the gorgeous fall
colorings of New England, and they are not surpassed, I think, anywhere
this side of heaven.
We gathered our apples. We had a small orchard of red Baldwins
across the brook, and some old, scattering trees such as you will find
on every New England farm. These last were very ancient, and of
varieties unknown to-day. One, badly broken by the wind, we cut, and
its rings gave it one hundred and fifty years. Putnam's soldiers could
have hooked apples from that tree, and probably did so, for it was not
in plain view of the house.
We put the Baldwins away and made cider of the others, it being now
the right moment, when there was a tang of frost in the morning air. We
picked up enough to fill both of Uncle Joe's cider-barrels, Westbury
and I hauled them to the mill, and the next day Elizabeth was boiling
down the sweet juice into apple-butter, which is one of the best things
in the world.
There is work about making apple-butter. It is not just a simple
matter of putting on some juice and letting it boil. Apples must go
into it, too, a great many of them, and those apples must be peeled and
sliced, and stirred and stirred eternally. And then you will find that
you need more apples, more peeling and slicing, and more stirring and
stirring, oh yes, indeed. Elizabeth stirred, I stirred, and Lazarus,
our small colored vassal, stirred. I said if I had time I would invent
an apple-butter machine, and Elizabeth declared she would never
undertake such a job again, never in the world! But that was mere
momentary rebellion. When it was all spiced and done and some of it
spread on slices of fresh bread and butter, discontent and weariness
passed, and next day she and Lazarus were making pickles and catsup and
apple jelly, while Old Pop and I were hauling all the flat stones we
could find and paving the wide space between the house and the stone
curb which already we had built around the well. Oh, there is plenty to
do when one has bought an old farm and wants to have all the good
things, and the livable things; and October is the time to do them,
when the mornings are brisk, and the days are balmy, and evening brings
solace by the open fire.
Lazarus's downfall was a matter of pigs
It was Lazarus, I think, who most enjoyed the open fire. Stretched
full length on the hearth, flat on his stomach, his chin in his hands,
baking himself, he might have been one of his own ancestors of the
African forest, for he was desperately black, and true to type. A runty
little spindle-legged darky of thirteen, Lazarus had come to us
second-hand, so to speak, from the county home. A family in the
neighborhood was breaking up, and Lazarus's temporary adoption in the
household was at an end. He had come on an errand one evening, and our
interview then had led to his being transferred to our account.
I goin' away nex' week, he said.
Where are you going, Lazarus?
Back to de home, where I come from.
What do you get for your work where you are now?
Boa'd and clo's an' whatever dey min' to give.
What do you do?
Bring wood, wash dishes, and whatever dey wants me to.
How would you like to come up here for a while?
He had his eye on my target-rifle as he replied, Yassah, I'd like
itwhat sort o' gun yo' got?
I explained my firearm to him and let him handle it. His willingness
to come grew.
Are you a pretty good boy, Lazarus?
Oh, yassahisis yo' goin' to le' me shoot yo' gun ef I come?
Very likely, but never mind that now. What happens if you're not
He eyed me rather furtively. De rule is yo cain't whip, he said.
You kin only send back to de home.
We agreed on these terms, and Lazarus arrived the day after the
auction that closed out his former employers. As an aside I may mention
that Old Pop laid off a day to attend the said auction, and bought a
pink chenille portière and a Japanese screen.
I want to be fair to Lazarus, and I confess, before going farther,
that I think we did not rate him at his worth. He had artistic
valuehe was good literary material. I feel certain of that now, and I
think I vaguely realized it at the time. But I was not at the moment
doing anything in color, and for other purposes he was not convincing.
His dish-washing was far from brilliant and his sweeping was a mess.
Also, his appetite for bringing wood had grown dull. There is an old
saying which closely associates a colored person with a wood-pile, but
our particular Senegambian was not of that variety. The only time he
really cared for wood was when it was blazing in the big fireplace, and
the picture he made in front of it was about all that we thought
valuable. It is true that he made a good audience and would accompany
me to the fuel-heap and openly admire and praise my strength in
handling the big logs, but his own gifts lay elsewhere. He approved of
my gun and would have spent whole days firing it into the sky or the
tree-tops, or at the barn or at birds, or into an expansive random, to
the general danger of the neighborhood, if I had let him. He had a
taste for jewelry, especially for my scarf-pins. When he saw one
loosely lying about he carefully laid it away to prevent accident,
using a very private little box he had, as a proper and safe place for
it. When he discussed this matter he told me quite casually that he
spected something would happen to him some day, as his father
and uncle, and I think he said his grandfather, were at the moment in
the penitentiary. He was inclined to exaggerate and may have been
boasting, but I think his ancestry was of that turn.
Lazarus's own chief treasure was a clock. I do not recall now where
he said it came from, but he valued it highly. It was a round tin
clock, with an alarm attachment. He kept it by his bed, and the alarm
was his especial joy. He loved the sound of it, I do not know why.
Perhaps it echoed some shrill, raucous cry of the jungle that had
stirred his ancestors, and something hereditary in him still answered
to it. He never seemed to realize that it was attached to the clock for
any special purpose, such as rousing him to the affairs of the day. To
him it was music, inspiration, even solace. When its strident
concatenation of sounds smote the morning air Lazarus would let it rave
on interminably, probably hugging himself with the fierce joy of it,
lulled by its final notes to a relapse of dreams. It did not on any
occasion stimulate him to rise and dress. That was a more strenuous
matterone requiring at times physical encouragement on my part. Had
his bulk been in proportion to his trance, I should have needed a block
and tackle and a derrick to raise this later Lazarus.
Lazarus's downfall was a matter of pigs. We did not expect to embark
in pig culture when we settled at Brook Ridge, but Westbury encouraged
the notion, and our faith in Westbury was strong. He said that pigs had
a passion for dish-water and garbage, and that our kitchen surplus,
modestly supplemented with shorts, would maintain a side-line of two
pigs, which would grow into three-hundred-pounders and fill up Uncle
Joe's pork and ham barrels by the end of another season.
The idea was alluring. A neighbor had small pigs for sale, and I
ordered a pair. There was an old pen near the barn, and I spent a day
setting it in order for our guests. I repaired the outlets, swept it,
and put in nice clean hay. I built a yard easy of access from the pen,
and installed a generous and even handsome trough. Westbury said our
preparations were quite complete. I could see that our pigs also
approved of it. They capered about, oof-oofing, and enjoyed their
trough and contents. True, their manners left something to be desired,
but that is often the case with the young.
What round, cunning, funny little things they were! We named them
Hans and Gretel, and were tempted to take them into the house, as pets.
We might have done so, only that I remembered the story of the Arab who
invited his camel to put his head in the tent. I had a dim suspicion
that those two pigs would own the house presently, and that we should
have no place to go but the pen. Lazarus was fascinated by them. He
hung over the side of their private grounds and wanted to carry them
Dem cert'ney make mighty fine shotes by spring, he announced to
everybody that came along, an' by killin'-time dey grow as big as dat
barn. I gwine to feed 'em all day an' see how fat dey gits.
You're elected, Lazarus, I said. It's your job. You look after
Hans and Gretel and we'll look after you.
Yo' des watch 'em grow, said Lazarus.
For a while we did. We went out nearly every day to look at our
prospective ham and bacon supply, and it did seem to be coming along.
Then I had some special work which took me away for a fortnight, and
concurrently a bad spell of weather set in. Elizabeth, occupied with
the hundred supplementary details of getting established, and general
domestic duties, could not give Hans and Gretel close personal
attention, and they fell as a monopoly to Lazarus. With his passion for
pigs, she thought he might overfeed them, but as she had never heard of
any fatalities in that direction he was not restrained.
But it may be this idea somehow got hold of Lazarus. I came home one
evening and asked about the pigs. Elizabeth was doubtful. She had been
out that day to look at them and was not encouraged by their
appearance. She thought they had grown somewhatin length. When I
inspected them next morning, I thought so, too. I said that Hans and
Gretel were no longer pigs they were turning into ant-eaters. Their
bodies appeared to have doubled in length and halved in bulk. Their
pudgy noses had become beaks. I was reminded of certain wild, low-bred
pigs which I had seen splitting the hazel-brush of the West, the kind
that Bill Nye once pictured as outrunning the fast mail. I said I
feared our kitchen by-product was not rich enough for Hans and Gretel.
Possibly that was true. Still, it would, have been better than nothing,
which it appeared was chiefly what those poor porkers had been living
Lazarus's love had waned and died. On chilly, stormy evenings it had
been easier to fling the contents of his pail and pan out back of the
wood-house than to carry them several times farther to the pen, while
the supplementary shorts had been shortened unduly for Hans and
Gretel. The physical evidence was all against Lazarusthe fascinations
of the big open fire had won him; he had been untrue to the pigs. When
he appeared, they charged him in chorus with his perfidy, and he could
frame no adequate reply. Westbury came, and I persuaded him to take
them at a reduction, and threw in Uncle Joe's pork and ham barrels. I
said we wanted Hans and Gretel to have a good homethat we had not
been worthy of them.
They found it at Westbury's. There they were in a sort of heaven.
When I saw them at the end of another two weeks they were again
unrecognizablethey were once more pigs.
We parted, with Lazarus about the same time. Our régime was not
suited to his needs. It was a pity. With his gifts, the right people
might have modeled him into a politician, or something, but we
couldn't. We had neither the equipment nor the time. Nor, according to
agreement, could we administer that discipline which, from our
old-fashioned point of view, he sometimes seemed to require. We could
only send back to de home. Perhaps to-day he is somewhere in
France, making a good soldier. I hope so.
Westbury had advised against wheat
But if our venture in pig culture had not been an entire success,
our agriculture gave better promise. Our rye and grass seed had come up
abundantly, and by November the fields, viewed from a little distance,
were a mass of vivid green. There is something approaching a thrill in
seeing the seed of your own sowing actually break ground and spring up
and wax strong with promise. You seem somehow to have had a hand in the
ancient miracle of life.
Our rye had such a sturdy look that I said it was pretty sure to
turn out something fancy in the way of grain, and that we could
probably sell it as seed rye, which always brought a better price
than the regular crop. Then, as the idea expanded, I said that with our
few acres we could cultivate intensively and raise seed crops entirely.
That would be something really aristocratic in the farming line. We
would begin with seed rye and wheat, of which latter grain I had put in
a modest sowing. Next year we would go in for seed potatoes, oats,
corn, and the like. We could have a neat sign on the stone wall in
front, announcing our line of goods. Very likely buyers would come from
a considerable distance for themI had myself driven seven miles with
Westbury for the seed rye. A business like that would grow. We could go
in for new varieties of things, and in time set up a shipping-station,
with a packing-house and a bookkeeper. No doubt Henderson and Hiram
Sibley and Ferry and those other seed magnates had begun in some such
I don't think Elizabeth responded entirely to this particular
enthusiasm, and I could see that she was doubtful about the sign in
front, but on a winy, windless November day, warmed by a mellow sun,
all things seem possible, and she graciously admitted that one never
could tellthat stranger things had happened. Then we came to our
small wheat-field, and the new seed enthusiasm received a slight check.
Westbury had advised against wheat. He said it did not do well in that
section. This, I had insisted, must be a superstition, and I had gone
to considerable expense to have the ground properly prepared, and to
obtain the best seed.
The result, as it appeared now, was not promising. Here and there a
spindling blade had come through, and some of those seemed about to
turn into grass. I do not know why wheat acts like that in Connecticut.
I did not follow up the scientific phases of the case, but I confided
to Elizabeth that perhaps, after all, we would not announce Seed
Wheat on the neat sign planned for the outer wall.
Late October winds had changed the aspect of our world. Our woods
were no longer deep, vast, and mysterious. We could see straight
through them and read their most hidden secrets. We discovered one day,
what we had never suspected, that at one place our brook turned and
came back almost to the road. All that summer it had supped silently
through that brushy corner which for some reason we had never
penetrated. We discovered, too, a little to one side of our former
excursions, a rocky acclivity, a place of pretty hemlock-trees and
seclusiona spot for a summer tent.
There were not many mushrooms any more, but we gathered gay red
berries for decoration, bunches of late fern, sprays of bittersweet; we
raked over the leaves for nuts, and sometimes found bits of spicy
wintergreen or checkerberry, the kind that always flavored
old-fashioned lozenges which our grandmothers bought in little rolls
for a penny, on the way to school. You may guess that this was pleasant
play to us who for ten years had known only city or suburban life at
this season, and not the least pleasant part of it was the quiet noise
the leaves made as we strode through them, the fruis-sas-se-ar,
as the French of the Provence call it, and the word as they speak it
conveys the sound. Astride a stick horse, of which on our new back
porch she kept a full stable, the Joy went racing this way and that,
kicking high the loose brown drift of summer, stirred to a sort of
ecstasy by its pleasant noise and the spicy autumn air.
The November woods had fewer voices than those of the earlier
season, but there was more visible life. Many of the birds remained,
and they could no longer hide so easily. A hawk or an owl on a bare
bough was sharply outlined. Rabbits darted among the trees, or stood
erect, staring at us with questioning eyes. Squirrels scampering over
the limbs gave exhibitions of acrobatic skill. There were two kinds of
squirrelsthe fat gray ones, of which there were not many, and the
venomous little red ones, of which there seemed an overproduction. They
were cute little wretches, but we did not care for them. They were
pugnacious pirates; they robbed their unmilitant gray relative and
chased him from the premises. Earlier in the season they had thrown
down quantities of green nuts to be wasted, and we were told they
robbed birds' nests, not only of their eggs, but of their young. Those
red rovers had no food value, or they would have been fewer. They were
a mere furry skin drawn over a bunch of wires and strings, and not
worth a charge of powder.
Deerwild deeron our own farm!
Animal life is still plentiful in New Englandfar more so than in
the newer states of the Middle West. With the decrease of population in
many districts the wild things have wandered back to their old haunts.
They are not very persistently hunted, and some of them, like the deer,
are protected. Now and again in our walks we saw a fox, wary and
silent-footed, and often on sharp nights, on the hill above the house,
one barked anxiously at the moon. At least that is the poetic form,
though I really think he was barking for the same reason that I often
sing when others of the family are not present. The others claim they
do not care for itI often wonder why. I suppose that fox's family was
the same way, so he went out there alone in a dark, safe place to enjoy
his music unrestrained. Yet no place seems entirely safe when one wants
to sing, and I fear something happened to that fox, for by and by we
did not hear him any more. Very likely one of his relatives crept up on
him with a brick. We were sorry, for we had learned to like his
musicit gave us a wild, primeval feeling.
I think there were no wolves or bears in our immediate neighborhood,
though there came reports of them, now and thenexaggerated, I dare
sayfrom adjoining ridges. The nearest thing we had to bears were some
very fat and friendly woodchucks, who at a little distance, sitting on
their haunches, looked very much like small grizzlies. They dug their
holes a few yards from the house and sometimes came quite to the back
door, probably intending to call, but when we approached them their
courage failed and they went galumphing back to their houses. There
they would sit up for a moment, staring at us, then, if we approached
suddenly, would dive to lower recesses. I explained to the Joy that
they most likely had cozy little houses down there, with chairs and
tables and a nice stove to cook their food things on. She was sure it
was all true, except about the stove, which seemed doubtful, because no
smoke ever came from their chimneys.
Most of the animals were friendly to us, and I think made our house
a sort of center. I remember one pleasant Sunday afternoon, when we
were sitting outside, we noticed simultaneously two woodchucks playing
in the field just across the road; a red squirrel pursuing a gray one
along our stone wall, almost within arm's-reach; a blue heron among the
willows by the brook, probably prospecting for trout; some bob-whites
running along by the roadside; while in the woods just beyond a
partridge was drumming up further recruits for the exhibition.
The deer did not call as soon as the others. They were reserved and
aristocratic and would seem to have looked us over a good while before
they accepted us. We frequently saw their tracks, and hoped for one of
the glimpses reported by our neighbors.
It came one morning, very early. A cow in an adjoining field was
making an unusual sound. Elizabeth looked out and beckoned me to the
window. There they were, at last! two reddish-tan, shy creaturesa doe
and a half-grown fawnstepping mincingly down to the brook to drink.
We could have hugged ourselves with the delight of itdeerwild
deeron our own farm, drinking from our own brook, here in this old,
I wonder if they heard us, or perhaps sensed us. Or they may not
have liked the noise of greeting, or protest, made by the neighbor's
cow. Whatever the reason, they suddenly threw up their heads, seemed to
look straight at us, turned lightly, and simply floated away. What I
mean by that is that their movement was not like that of any other
animal, or like a bird'sit suggested thistledown. They drifted over
the stone wall and clumps of bushes without haste and seemingly without
weight. It was as if we had seen phantoms of the dawn.
We saw them often, after that. Sometimes at evening they grazed in
our lower meadow. Once, three of them in full daylight crossed the
upland just above the house. They were not fifty yards away, moving
deliberately, looking neither to the right nor to the left.
We felt the honor of itthey had admitted us to their charmed
But Sarah was biding her time
I have not mentioned, I think, a small building that, when we came,
stood just across the road from our housea rather long, low structure
with sliding windows, called the shop. Red raspberries of a large,
sweet variety were ripening about it, and within was a short box
counter, a shoemaker's work-bench, a cutting-board, a great bag of
wooden shoe-pegs, and a quantity of leather scraps, for it had, in
fact, been a shop during the two generations preceding our ownership.
Before that it appeared to have served as a sort of office for Captain
Ben Meeker, who also had been not merely a farmer, as certain records
proved. Captain Ben may have built the shop, though I think it was
older, for when we examined the picturesque little building, with a
view to restoration, it proved to be too far gonetoo much a structure
of decay. So we tore down the shop, and, incidentally, Old Pop, who
did the tearing, found a Revolutionary bayonet in the loft; also a more
recent, and particularly hot, hornets' nest which caused him to leap
through the window and spring into the air several times on the way to
the bushes by the brook. But that is another story. We have already had
the bee history; hornets would be in the nature of a repetition.
We found something of still greater interest in the old shop. One
day, digging over the leather scraps, we uncovered the records above
mentionedthat is to say, the old account-books of Captain Ben Meeker
and the two generations of shoemakers who had followed him. These
ancient folios, stoutly made and legibly written, correlate a good deal
of Brook Ridge history for a hundred years. The names of the dead are
there, and the items of their forgotten activities.
From Westbury and others we already knew that Benjamin Meeker and
Sarah, his wife, had occupied our house at the beginning of the last
centuryyoung married folks thenand that there had been a little
girl (owner of the small brass-nailed trunk, maybe) who in due time had
grown up and married the young shoemaker, Eli Brayton, of distant
parts, he being from eastern New York, as much as fifty miles away.
Brayton had remained in the family, set up his bench in one end of the
building across the road, and there for a generation made the boots of
the countryside, followed in the trade by his son, the Uncle Joe who
at eighty-five had laid down the hammer and the last a year prior to
our coming. This was good history in outline, and Westbury had supplied
episodes, here and there, embellished in his improving fashion. The old
books came now as a supplementan extension course, as it were, in the
history of Captain Ben and his successors.
While not recorded, we may assume that Captain Ben belonged to the
militia, hence his title. That he had another official position we
learn from certain items of entry:
To serving one summon on S. Davis 3 shillin
To serving one tachment on J. Fillow 2 shillin
To fees: execushun Eli Sherwood 2 shillin 6 pnc.
Evidently a constable or deputy sheriff, and I think we may assume
that the last item records a process, and not a performance. The fees
are reassuring. Eli could hardly have been dismissed mortally for two
Captain Ben had still other activities. He owned teams for hire; he
dealt in livestock; in addition to his farm he owned a sawmill on the
brook; he even went out at day's laborcertainly a busy man, requiring
carefully kept accounts, and an office.
The accounts begin in 1797 and are sometimes kept in dollars and
cents, sometimes in the English fashion, as above. Sometimes the
charges are made in one form, the credits in another. It was just as he
got started, I suppose, both moneys being in about equal circulation.
Captain Ben's spelling is interesting. He was by no means
illiterate. His writing is trim, his accounts in good form and
correctly figured. But it was more a fashion in that day to spell as
pronounced, and his orthography gives us a personal sense of the
To plowin garding ... 2 shillin. You can almost hear him say that,
while To haulin stun likewise carries the fine old flavor.
We have heard much of the good old times when things were cheap,
but Captain Ben's book proves that not all commodities were cheap in
his day. Calico, for instance, is set down at three and six a
yardthat is, eighty-five cents. Handkerchiefs at two shillings
thrippence each, sugar at a shilling per pound, which is more than
double our war-time prices. It is not well to complain, even to-day,
remembering those rates, especially when we note that in 1805 Captain
Ben's labor brought him only four shillings a day (six with team), and
his sawing, in small lots, but a trifle. Labor was, in fact, cheap at
that period; also unfortunately for Captain Benrum and brandy.
The book does not say where Ezekial Jackson kept his general store,
but that was where Captain Ben dealt, and his items of purchase are
faithfully set down. A good many men swear off on the New Year, but
Captain Ben didn't. He bought a decantur, price two and six (ah me!
it would be an antique, now), and promptly started in having it filled.
Behold the startling credits to Ezekial Jackson during the first ten
days of 1806:
Jan. 1, By 2 lb. sugar 2 shillin
1, 1 qt. brandy 2 shillin
5, 1 qt. brandy 2 shillin
6, 1 qt. brandy 2 shillin
10, 1 qt. brandy 2 shillin
But perhaps this was too costly a pace, for the next entry is, Jan.
15, 1 jug, 1 shillin, and on the same date, One gallon of rum, 6
shillin. That, you see, was somewhat cheaper and required fewer trips
to town. On January 20th the jug was filled again, and on the same date
we find set down four and a half yards of chintz and one scane of
silk. That chintz and scane of silk look suspiciousthey look like
tranquilizers for Sarah, his wife.
Through that month and the three following the liquid items follow
with alarming monotony, only separated here and there by entries of
tee and sugar and certain yards of cotting and scanes of silk for
But Sarah was biding her time. The book does not say that the
minister was asked to call, or that he came. It does not need to. We
may guess it from the next entry:
May 2, By 1 famly bible 1 poun, 13 shillin
That ended the rum chapter. There is not another spirituous entry in
all of Ezekial Jackson's credits. By one mometer comes next, May 6th.
Probably Captain Ben felt himself cooling down pretty rapidly for the
season, and wanted to take the temperature. Then follows two
combshe was going to keep slicked upalso earthenware, indigo,
cotting, and more scanes of silk, mainly for Sarah, no doubt, and so
on to the end, when the account is closed and underneath is written:
This day made all even betwixt Ezekial Jackson and myself.
Captain Ben's accounts close in 1829, but the shoemaking records had
long since begun. They are more prosaic, but they have an interest,
too. A book with charges against Joel Barlow and Aaron Burr could
hardly fail of that, though the said Joel Barlow is not the
poet-diplomat who wrote the Columbiad and shone in European courts,
nor Aaron Burr the corrupter of Blennerhassett and the slayer of
Alexander Hamilton. At least, I judge they were not, for this Barlow
and this Burr had cobbling charges against them as late as 1840, when
the intriguing Aaron and the gifted Joel no longer needed earthly
repairs. Nevertheless, they were of the same families, for Joel Barlow,
the poet, was born just over the hill from us, and the name of Aaron
Burr was known in Connecticut long before it found doubtful distinction
in New Jersey.
The shoemaker's accounts reflect a life that is now all but gone.
Some of the charges were offset with potatoes, some with rye, some with
labor, a few of them with cash. A pair of boots in 1828 brought two
dollars and fifty cents. Repairs ranged from six cents up, many of the
charges being set down in half-cents. Those were exact, frugal days.
We often cooked by our fireplace
One hundred and fifty Thanksgivings must have preceded ours in the
old house, but I think out of them all you could not have picked a
better one. I would not like to say a more bountiful one, for I suppose
in the earlier day they had great wild turkeys and perhaps a haunch of
venison, braces of partridges and other royal fare. Even so, they could
hardly have eaten it all, and I think their noble turkey did not taste
any better than ours. Moreover, we were glad that our deer and
partridges were still running free.
We did not lack of native dishes. Our mince and pumpkin pies were
home products, as well as our apple-butter and a variety of other
preserves. Also, I had discovered a bed of wild cress in the brook and
our brown turkey was garnished with that piquant green. Certainly there
was an old-fashioned feeling about our first New England
holidaysomething precious and genuine, that made all effort and cost
The Pride and the Hope had come home for a week's vacation and were
reveling in the house, which they now for the first time saw in order.
Of course their rooms had to be personally adjusted, their own special
belongings inspected and put away. Their treasures, after two months of
absence, were all new and fresh to them. The Pride, reveling in her own
cozy corner, or curled up in a big chair by the log fire, reread her
favorite books; the Hope and the Joy played paper-doll ladies on the
deep couch, cutting out a whole new generation with up-to-date
wardrobes from the costume pages of some marvelous new fashion
magazines. Oblivious to the grosser world about them, they caused their
respective families to telephone and give parties and visit back and
forth, and to discuss openly their most private affairs and move into
new houses and make improvements and purchases that would have wrecked
Rockefeller if the bills had ever fallen due. That is the glory of
make-believeone may go as far as he likes, building his castles and
his kingdoms, with never a cent to pay. It is only when one tries to
realize in acres and bricks and shingles that the accounts come in. A
spiritistic friend of mine told me recently that the latest
communications from the shadow world indicate the life there to be
purely mental, that each spirit entity creates its own environment and
habitation by thought alone. In a word, it is a world, he said, where
imagination is reality and all the dreams come true. Ah me! I hope he
is not mistaken! What dreams of empires we have all put away, what
air-castles we have seen melt and vanish because of the cost! A place
where one may build and plant and renew by the processes of thought
alone, unchecked by acreage boundaries or any sordid limitations of
ways and means! I cannot think of a better or more reasonable hereafter
than that. We get a glimpse of it here in the play of childrenlittle
children who perhaps have left the truth not so far behind.
Fashion ladies must relax now and then. Even in late November
there were pleasant sunny days when the Hope and the Joy roamed the
fields or laid a long board across a tumbled wall and teetered away
vacation hours to the tune of
Seesaw, Marjory Daw,
Sold her bed and laid on straw,
which was probably first sung a good way backby Cain and Abel,
maybe, in some corner of Eden. No, it would be outside of Eden, for
their parents had moved, as I remember, before their arrival. And I
wonder if little Cain and Abel had a fire to gather around when the
fall evenings began to close in, before the lamps were lit, and if they
ever had cakes and toast and sandwiches, with hot chocolate, from an
old blue china set from a corner cupboard, and were as hungry as bears,
and rocked while they ate and drank and watched the firelight dance on
the tea-things and table-legs. If not, I am afraid they missed
something, and perhaps it is not to be wondered at that little Cain
became gloomy and savage and outcast when he grew up. A fireplace with
a cozy cup of chocolate and a bite of something filling will civilize
children about as quickly as anything I know of, and would, I am sure,
have been good for Cain.
We often cooked by our fireplace. We hung a kettle over it for tea
and toasted bread on Captain Ben Meeker's long iron toasting-fork. Then
at supper-time we would rake out the coals, and on one of the old
gridirons brought down from the attic would broil a big steak, or some
chops, and if they did not taste better than any other steak or chops
we certainly imagined they did, and I am still inclined to think we
were right. Then there was popcorn, and potatoes roasted in the ashes,
and apples on sticks, though this was likely to be later in the
evening, when the tribe was hungry again, for children in vacation are
always hungry, just little savages, and the best way to civilize them
is to feed them, as I have said. It was too bad they must go back to
school, and sometimes we wished there were never any such things as
schools; and then again, when the house was one wild riot and hurrah,
just at a moment when I wanted to reflect, I could appreciate quite
fully the beauties of education and certain remote places where under
careful direction it could be acquired. But how silent and lonely the
house seemed when the Pride and the Hope were gone! How glad we were
that Christmas was only a month away!
Under the spell of the white touch
In an earlier chapter I have spoken of our attic as an almost
unfailing source of supply. Any sort of vessel or implement we might
happen to need was pretty certain to turn up there if we looked long
enough. It provided us with jugs and jars, and by and by, when the snow
came, a wooden shovel and a bootjack for our rubber boots. I said that
probably some day we should find a horse and buggy and harness up
there, which was about all that we needed, now. It was just one of
those careless remarks we all make on occasion. It never occurred to me
that it was tinged with prophecy.
We did not find the horse, harness, and buggy in the attic, but we
found themheired them, to use a good New England word, just as we had
heired the other things. The automobile had not yet reached Brook
Ridge, but it was arriving in the centers and suburbs, upsetting old
traditions, severing old ties. Once we had been commuters on Long
Island, and in our happy suburb there still lived a friend to whom the
years had brought prosperity and motor-machines. In the earlier, more
deliberate years he had found comfort and sufficient speed in an
enviable surrey, attached to a faithful family horse which now, alas!
was too slow, too deliberate for the pace of wealth and the honk-honk
of style. So the old horse stood in the stable, for his owners did not
wish to see him go to strangers. But then one day they heard how we had
turned ourselves into farmers, and presently word came that if we
needed Old Beek (shortened from Lord Beaconsfield), surrey, and harness
complete, they were ours to command. They would be delivered to us in
the city, the message said, from which point we could drive, or ship,
them to the farm. It was a windfall from a clear skywe said it must
be our lucky year. We accepted the quickest way, and were presently in
the city to receive Lord Beaconsfield.
Had it been earlier in the year, during those magic days of
September, or even in October, when the drifting leaves had turned the
highways into thoroughfares of gold, we should have driven by easy
stages the sixty miles, across the hills and far away, to Brook Ridge,
resting where the night found us. It was too late for that now. The
roadsides were no longer flower-decked or golden. An early snowfall had
left them in rather a mixed condition, and the air had a chill in it
that did not invite extended travel. We could ship by boat to our
nearest Sound port, and the fifteen-mile drive from there seemed no
We admired the dignity with which His Lordship drew up in front of
our New York hotel. He was a large, handsome animal, sorrel as to
color, and of a manner befitting his station and advanced years. It was
evident that we were not of his class, but with the gentle tact of true
nobility he never, either then or later, permitted this difference in
rank to make us uncomfortable. He even allowed us to call him Beek,
Old Beek, good Old Beek, especially when there was a lump of sugar
in prospect. He was very human.
But I anticipate. We were delighted with Lord Beaconsfield and his
appurtenances. As for the Joy, she was quite beside herself. Anything
with the semblance of a horse would excite the Joy. I got in with the
driver, and we made our way to the river-front, where I saw His
Lordship to his state-room and the surrey stored away. I don't suppose
in all his twenty years he had ever taken a voyage before, but he
showed no nervousness or undue surprise, and that night at the port of
arrival he came stepping down the gang-plank as unconcernedly as the
oldest traveler. We were up and away rather early next morning, for we
wished to travel leisurely, and we were not familiar with the road.
On inquiry we learned there were two roadsone to the east and one
to the west of a little river, the same that formed a mill-pond in
Westbury's door-yard, and here a wide orderly stream flowed into the
sea. The Glen roadthe one to the eastwas thought to be the
shorter, so we chose that. It was a good selection, so far as scenery
was concerned, but if I had the same drive to make again I would go the
other way. With the exception of a small box of lunch crackers for the
Joy, we had provided no food for the journey, for we said we could stop
at a village inn when the time came and get something warm. That was a
good idea, only there were no villages. There was not even a country
store in that lost land of forest and hill and rocky cliff and desolate
open field. Now and then we came to a house, but so dead and forbidding
was its aspect that we did not dare even to ask our way. Never a soul
appeared in the door-yard, and if smoke came from the chimney it was a
thin, blue wisp as from dying embers. The land was asleep, under the
spell of the white touch. To knock at one of those houses would have
been, as it seemed, to call its occupants from their winter trance.
We traveled slowly, for the roads were sticky, and there were many
hills. We could not ask Lord Beaconsfield to do more than walk, which
he did sturdily enough, tugging up the long hills, though they were
probably the first he had ever seen, for his part of Long Island had
been level ground. What must he have thought of that chaotic
desolation, where most of the woods and a good many of the fields were
set up at foolish angles against other woods and fields and where there
was no sign of food for man or beast?
But if we were timid about making inquiries, His Lordship was not.
When his appetite became urgent he forgot that he had come of a proud
race, and soon after noon-time began to trumpet his demands, and his
alarm, like an ordinary horse. His stable at home must have been red,
for at every barn of that friendly colorand most of them were of that
huehe sent a clarion neigh across the echoing hills. The Joy, bundled
warmly, munched her crackers and made little complaint. Her elders
diverted themselves by admiring the winter scenerythe bared woods,
lightly dressed with snow, the rocky cliffs and ledges, the tumbling
black river that now and again came into view.
As the afternoon wore on and we arrived nowhere, we became disturbed
by doubts as to our direction. It was true that we seemed to be
following the general course of the river, but was it the right river?
Hadn't we gone trailing off somewhere on a second-class tributary that
had been leading us all day through a weird, bedeviled territory that
probably wasn't on the map at all? The brief daylight was fading and it
was important that we arrive somewhere, pretty soon. We must make
inquiry. It would be better to rouse even one of the seven sleepers
than to wander aimlessly into the night. At the next house, I said, we
But at the next house we actually discovered something
movingsomething outside. As we came nearer it took the form of a man,
a sad man, dragging a crooked limb from a wood-pile. I drew up.
[Illustration: Good afternoon, I said. Can you tell us where
Good afternoon, I said. Can you tell us where we are?
Why, yes, he grunted, as he worked and pulled at the limb. You're
at Valley Forge.
Valley Forge! Heavens! We were within twenty miles of Philadelphia,
on the Schuylkill. At the pace we had been going it did not seem
reasonable. This must be enchantment, sure enough.
Look here, I said, you don't mean that this is Valley Forge where
Washington was quartered.
Don't know anything about that, he said, still grunting over the
crooked limb, but I've been quartered here for more 'n sixty years,
an' it's always been the same Valley Forge in my time.
Isis this Connecticut?
That's what it is.
I breathed easier. If he had said Pennsylvania it would have meant
that we were a hundred and fifty miles from home.
Do you know of any place called the Glen?
Of course; right up ahead a few miles. Where'd you folks come from,
anyway? You don't appear to know much about locations.
I side-stepped, thanking him profusely. We were all right, then, but
it seemed a narrow escape.
At last we entered the Glen and recognized certain landmarks. It was
a somber place nowits aspect weirdly changed since the first days of
our coming. Then it had been a riot of summer-time, the cliffs a mat
and tangle of green that had shut us in. On this dull December evening,
with its vines and shrubs and gaunt trees bare, its pointed cedars and
hemlocks the only green, its dark water swirling under overhanging
rocks, it had become an entrance to Valhalla, the dim abode of the
How friendly Westbury's lights looked when we crossed the bridge by
the mill and turned into the drive, and what gracious comfort there was
in his bright fire and warm, waiting supper. We did not go up the hill
that night. Good Old Beek found rest and food and society in Westbury's
big red barn.
The difficulty was to get busy
I have referred more than once, I am sure, to my study behind the
chimney, a tiny place of about seven by nine feet, once, no doubt, the
parlor bedroom. I selected it chiefly because of its size. I said one
could condense his thoughts so much better in a limited area. I shelved
one side and end of it to the ceiling, put dull-green paper on the
walls, padded its billowy floor with excelsior, put down dull-green
denim as a rug basis, and painted the woodwork to match. Then I set my
work-table in the center, where I could reach almost anything without
getting up; and certainly with its capable fireplace it was as cozy and
inviting a work-room as one would find in a week's travel.
The difficulty was to get busy at the condensing process. Work was
pressing. Not exactly the work, either, but the need of it. No, I mean
the necessity of it. It was the need of funds that was pressingthat
is what I have been trying to convey. With all the buying and
improving, and the loads of new indispensables that Westbury was
constantly bringing from the nearest town of size, the exchequer was
running low. I am not really so lazy, once I get started, but I have a
constitutional hesitancy in the matter of getting started. My will and
enthusiasm are both in good supply, but my ability to sit down and
really begin is elusive.
It was especially so that winter; there were so many excuses for not
getting started. Mornings I would rise firm in the resolve that the day
and hour were at hand. After breakfast I would determinedly start for
the room behind the chimney. Unfortunately I had to pass through our
best room to get there. There was certain to be a picture or
something a little out of place in that room. Whatever it was, it must
be attended to. It would annoy me to leave a thing like that
unremedied. One's mind must be quite untrammeled to condense. Sometimes
I had to rearrange several of the pictures, and straighten the books,
and pull the rugs around a little, before I felt ready for the
condensing process. But then I would be certain to notice something out
in the yard that was not in place. We took a pride in our yard. Once
outside, one thing generally led to another, and in the course of time
I would be pawing over stuff in the barn. Then it was about
luncheon-timeit would hardly be worth starting the condensing
business till afterward.
Perhaps I would actually get into the room behind the chimney after
luncheon, but one could not begin work until the fire was replenished
and a supply of wood brought. Then while one was at it one might as
well get in a supply of fuel for the other fires, so as to have a clear
afternoon for a good substantial beginning.
Oh, well, you see where all those paltry subterfuges ended. It was
the easiest thing in the world to remember something I wanted to tell
Westburysomething importantand our telephone lines were not yet
connected. It would be about five when I got back, and of course one
could not start a piece of work late in the day when one was all worn
out. To-morrow, bright and early, would be the time.
Then, just as likely as not, to-morrow would be one of those
bad-luck days. In a diary which I kept at the time I find a record of a
day of that sort.
Began this morning by breaking a lamp chimney before I was
I continued by stepping on Pussum's tail on the way
the dark, which caused me to slide and scrape the rest of the
Elizabeth came to the head of the stairs with a fresh lamp and
remark that she thought I had given up using such language. In
applying the liniment I upset the greasy stuff on the
rug and it required an hour's brisk rubbing to get it out. Not
being satisfied with this, I turned over a bottle of ink when
down after breakfast to dash off an important note before
mail-time. Nobody could think consecutively after a series
that, so I went out for some fresh air and decided to clean up
rough corner by the brook. I scratched my nose, strained my
and mashed my finger with a stone. Only a 100-per-cent.
could remain calm on such a day. To-morrow I shall go warily
softly, and really begin work.
I did, in fact, against all intention and good judgment, begin one
evening just about bedtime, and worked until quite late. It was not a
bad beginning, either, as such things goat least, I have tried harder
and made worse ones. After that the condensing process went better. I
could any time find excuses for not working, but I did not hunt for
them so anxiously. I was pretty fairly under way by Christmas, and the
room behind the chimney had all at once become the most alluring place
in the world.
The magic of the starlit tree
We have always had a tree for Christmas. Long ago, far back in our
early flat-dwelling days, we had our first one, and I remember we
shopped for it Christmas Eve among the bright little Harlem groceries
where they had them ranged outside, picking very carefully for one
symmetrical in shape and small of size and price, to fit our tiny flat
and, oh yes, indeed, our casual income. I remember, too, that when it
was finally bought I put it on my shoulder with a proud feeling, and we
drifted farther, picking up the trimmingsthe tinsel and gay
ornaments, the small gifts for the one very small person who had so
recently come to live with us, discussing each purchase with due
deliberation, going home at last with rather more than we could afford,
I fear, for I recall further that we did not have enough left next
morning to buy butter for breakfast. How young we were then, and how
poor, and how happy! and Christmas morning, with its twinkling mystery,
was the most precious thing of the whole year.
It still remained so. Time could not dim the magic of the starlit
tree. Another little person had come, and another. A larger tree and
more decorations were needed, and the presents grew in number and
variety, but the old charm of secret preparation, and morning gifts,
and the lights that first twinkled around a manger, did not fade.
We did not buy a tree at Brook Ridge. There was no need. Across the
road, partway up the slope, was a collection of green and shapely
little cedarsa regular Santa Claus groveand on the afternoon before
Christmas, a gray, still afternoon, heavy with mystic portent,
Elizabeth and I took a small ax and climbed up there, and picked and
selected, just as we had done in those earlier years, and came home
with our tree, stealthily carrying it in the back way, to the
wood-house, and fitting it to the small green stand that we had used
and preserved from year to year. The little girl for whom we had bought
the first tree was the Pride, now aged twelve, and no longer without
knowledge of the Christmas saint, but the romance of not knowing, of
still believing in it all, was too precious to be put away yet, and she
was off to bed with the others to bring more quickly the joyous
morning. Alone, as heretofore, Elizabeth and I tied and marked the
tissue packages, and in some of the books wrote rhymes, such as only
Santa Claus can think of when he has finished his remote year of toil
and has started out with his loaded sleigh to strew happiness around
I suppose there is no more delightful employment than to watch the
thing that will give a splendid joy to one's children grow and glisten
under one's handsto view it at different angles during the process;
to note how it begins to look Christmasy, to add a touch here, a
brightness there, to see it at last radiant and complete, ready for the
morning illumination. On the topmost branch each year there was always
the same little hanging ornament, a swinging tinseled cherub that we
had bought for the very first little tree and the very first little
girl, in the days when we had been so young, so poor, and so happy.
It was midnight when the last touch was given and the cherub was
swinging at the top, and it was only a wink or two afterward, it
seemed, that there were callings back and forth from small beds and a
general demand for investigation. A hurried semi-dressing, a fire
blazing up the chimney, a door thrown open upon a sparkling, spangled
tree. Eager exclamations, moments of awed silence, after which the
thrilling distribution of gifts. Human life holds few things better or
happier than such a Christmas morning. Whatever else the Christ-child
brought to the world, that alone would make his coming a boon to
On our wall hung a quaint framed print of the first Christmas
family, and under it some verses by the now all-but-forgotten poet,
Edwin Waugh. In those days it was our custom, when the distribution was
over and the morning light filled the room, to gather in front of the
picture and sing the verses to a simple tune of our own. It was a poor
little ceremony, but, remembering it now, I am glad that we thought it
worth while. The verses are certainly so, and I want to preserve them
herethey are so little known.
BY EDWIN WAUGH
Long time ago in Palestine,
Upon a wintry morn,
All in a lowly cattle-shed
The Prince of Peace was born.
The clouds fled from the gloomy sky,
The winds in silence lay,
And the stars shone bright with strange delight
To welcome in that day.
His parents they were simple folk
And simple lives they led,
And in the ways of righteousness
This little child was bred.
In gentle thought and gentle deed
His early days went by,
And the light His youthful steps did lead
Came down from heaven on high.
He was the friend of all the poor
That wander here below;
It was His only joy on earth
To ease them of their woe.
In pain He trod His holy path,
By sorrow sorely tried;
It was for all mankind He lived,
And for mankind He died.
Like Him let us be just and pure,
Like Him be true alway,
That we may find the peace of mind
That never fades away.
Westbury dropped in
So came the deeps of winterJanuary in New England. With the Pride
and the Hope back at school, Elizabeth and I, with the Joy, shut away
from most of the sounds and strivings of men, looked out on the heaping
drifts and gathered about blazing logs, piled sometimes almost to the
It was our refreshment and exercise to bring in the logs. We were
told that in a former day they had been dragged in by a horse, who drew
them right up to the wide stone hearth. But we did not use Lord
Beaconsfield for this work. For one thing, he would have been too big
to get through the door; besides, we were strong, and liked the job. We
had two pairs of ice-tongs, and we would put on our rubber boots, and
take the tongs, and go out into the snow, and fasten to a logone at
each endand drag it across Captain Ben's iron door-sill, and lift it
in and swing it across the stout andirons with a skill that improved
with each day's practice. They were good, lusty stickssome of them
nearly two feet through. These were the back-logs, and they would last
two or three days, buried in the ashes, breaking at last into a mass of
In New England one builds a fire scientifically, if he expects to
keep warm by it. There must be a fore-stick and a back-stick, and a
pyramid of other sticks, with proper draught below and flame outlets
above. And he must not spare fuelnot if he expects heat. Westbury
dropped in one afternoon just when we had completed a masterpiece in
fire-building. He went up to warm his hands and regarded the blazing
heap of hickory with critical appraisal.
That fire cost you two dollars, he remarked, probably recalling
the number of days it had taken Old Pop and Sam to cut and cord the big
hickory across the brook.
It's worth it, I said. I've paid many a two dollars for luxuries
that weren't worth five minutes of this.
Westbury dropped into a comfortable chair, took out his knife, and
picked up a piece of pine kindling.
You think this beats city life? he observed, whittling slowly.
Well, that depends on what you want. If you like noise and action,
the city's the place. We once lived in a flat where there was a piano
at one end of the hall and two phonographs at the other. Then there was
a man across the air-shaft who practised on the clarinet, and a
professional singer up-stairs. Besides this, when the season was right,
we had a hand-organ concert every few minutes on the street. When
everything was going at once it was quite a combination. The trolley in
front and the Elevated railway behind helped out, too, besides the
automobiles, and the newsboys and more or less babies that were trying
to do their part. Some people would be lonesome without those things, I
Westbury whittled reflectively.
I like to be where it's busy, he commented, but I guess a fellow
could get tired of too much of it. It's pretty nice to live where you
can look out on the snow and the woods, and where you can hear it rain,
and in the spring wake up in the night and listen to the frogs sing.
Westbury's eye ranged about the room, taking in the pictures and
bric-à-brac and the bookshelves along the wall. I wonder what Captain
Ben Meeker would think to see his old kitchen turned into a library,
he went on, thoughtfully. Not many books in his day, I guess; maybe
one or two on the parlor table, mostly about religion. They were pretty
strong on religion, back in that time, though Captain Ben, I guess,
didn't go in on it as heavy as his wife. Captain Ben was more for
hunting, and horses, and dogs, and the man that could cut the most
grass in a day. The story goes that when Eli Brayton, the shoemaker,
wanted to marry Molly Meeker, Captain Ben wouldn't give her to him
because he said Eli hadn't proved himself a man yet. Brayton was
boarding in the family and working in the little shop that used to
stand across the road. Aunt Sarah Meeker, Captain Ben's wife, wanted
the shoemaker in the family because he was religious; but Captain Ben
said, 'No, sir, he's got to prove himself a man before he can have
Molly.' Well, one day Eli Brayton saw a fox up in the timber, and came
down to the house and told Captain Ben about it. 'Let me have your
gun,' he said, 'and I'll go up and get that chap that's been killing
your chickens lately.' 'All right,' says Captain Ben, 'but you won't
get him.' Eli didn't say anything, but took the old musket and slipped
up there, and by and by they heard a shot and pretty soon he came down
the hill with Mr. Fox over his shoulder. They went out on the step to
meet him, and he threw the fox down in front of Molly Meeker. 'There's
some fur for you,' he said, 'and I guess he won't catch any more
chickens.' Captain Ben went up to Eli and slapped him on the shoulder.
'Now you've proved yourself a man,' he says, 'and you can have Molly.'
That was my wife's grandmother. She was an only child and the Meekers
and the Braytons lived here together. Eli Brayton grew to be quite a
character himself. When they came around to him to collect money for
the church he'd contribute some of his unpaid shoe accounts. He knew
the people that owed them would pay the church, because they'd be
afraid not to. Old Deacon Timothy Todd used to do the collecting. He
had a high-keyed voice and no front teeth, and always chewed as he
talked. He'd pull out the bill and shake it at the man that owed it and
say: 'A debt to the church is registered above. Not to pay it is a
mortal sin. To perish in sin is to be burned with brimstone and eaten
by the worm that dieth not.' Before Deacon Todd got through that sinner
was ready to come across.
Westbury in childhood had seen Deacon Timothy Todd and could imitate
his speech and manner. He enjoyed doing it as much as we enjoyed
Deacon Todd had two boys, he went on, Jim and Tim, and he used to
say, 'My Jim is a good boy, but Tim proved himself a bad one when he
slapped his mother with an eel-skin.' Deacon Todd married a second
time. He lent some money to a woman to set up a business in Westport,
and a little while after his wife died he went down to collect it.
Somebody met him on the road and asked him where he was going. 'Well,'
he said, 'I'm just going down to Westport to collect a little money I
loaned a young woman, and I'll bring back the money or the young woman,
one of the two,' and he did. He was back with her next day. Timothy
Todd was a great old chap. When the Civil War broke out he didn't want
to go. He was getting along pretty well, thenforty or soand had
already lost two of his front teeth and claimed he couldn't bite off
the ca'tridges. They used to have to bite off the paper ends of them
for muzzle-loading guns. Then the draft came and he was scared up for
fear they'd get him. They didn't, though, but they got about all the
others that were left, and Deacon Todd went down to see them off. When
the train came and he saw them all get on, and the train starting, he
forgot all about not wanting to go, and jumped on with them, and went.
'I saw all my friends was goin',' he said, 'an' th'd be nobody left in
the country but me. I reckon I can bite them ca'tridges off with my
eye-teeth, if I really want to do it, I says, an' I was on the train
an' half-way to Danbury before I recollected that Mrs. Todd had told me
to bring home a dime's wuth o' coffee an' a pound o' sugar. I didn't
get back with 'em fer two years, an' then I come in limpin' with a
bullet in my left hind leg. Here's that pound o' coffee and dime's
wuth o' sugar, I says. I waited fer 'em to git cheaper.'
Westbury's visits did much to brighten up the somber days, while our
blazing hearth and the sturdy little furnace down-stairs kept us warm
and cozy. Looking out on a landscape that was like a Christmas card,
and remembering the drabble and jangle of the town, we were not sorry
to be among the clean white hills.
No animal except man digs and plants
It was only a little after Christmas that we began planning for our
spring garden. As commuters, we had once possessed a gardena bit of
ground, thirty-five feet square, but fruitful beyond belief. Now we had
broad, enriched spaces that in our fancy we saw luxuriant with
vegetable and bright with flower.
I suppose one of the most deeply seated of human instincts is to
plant and till the soil. It is the thing that separates us most widely
from other animal life. The beasts and birds and insects build houses,
lay up food, and some of them, even if unwittingly, change the style of
their clothing with the seasons. But no animal except man digs and
plants and cultivates the flower and fruit and vegetable that nourish
his body and soul. It is something that must date back to creation, for
in the deepest winter, when the ground is petrified and the skies are
low and gray, the very thought of turning up the earth, and raking and
planting, awakens a thrill in the innermost recesses of the normal
human heart, while a new seed-catalogue, filled with gay pictures and
gaudy promises, becomes a poem, nothing less.
What gardens we anticipate when the snow lies deep and we pore over
those seductive lists by a blazing fire! Never a garden this side of
Paradise so fair as they. For there are no weeds in our gardens of
anticipation, nor pests, nor drought, nor any blight. The sun always
shines there, and purple flowers are waving in the wind. No real garden
will ever be so beautiful, because it will never quite be bathed in the
tender light, never wave with quite the loveliness of those fair, frail
gardens of our dreams.
We planted many dream gardens that winter. Splendid catalogues came
every little while, and each had its magic of color and special
offersSix rare roses for a dollar, Six papers of seeds for ten
centssix of anything to make the heart happy, for a ridiculously
small sum. The rich level behind the barn was to us no longer hard with
frost and buried beneath the drifts, but green and waving. Some days we
walked out to look over the ground a little and pick the places where
we would have things, but our imagination seemed to work better in the
house by the big fireplace, especially when we rattled the
buff-and-green seed-packets that presently began to come and were kept
handy in the sideboard drawer.
Our former garden had been so small that we feared we should not
have enough for these new areas, and almost daily we increased certain
staples and discovered something we had overlooked, some New Wonder
tomato, or Murphy's Miracle melon. Being strong for melons, I pinned
my faith to Murphy's Miracle, and ordered several packets of the seeds
that would produce it. Then I began to have doubts. I said if half
those seeds sprouted and did half as well as the catalogue promised,
the level behind the barn would fall a prey to Murphy and become just a
heap of melons. Elizabeth suggested that I add another acre and devote
my summer vacation to peddling them.
Elizabeth was mainly for salads. Anything that could be served with
French dressing or mayonnaise found a place on her list. She got a new
copy of her favorite Iowa catalogue, and when she found in it a special
combination offer of Twelve new things to eat raw (it had formerly
been nine) she was moved almost to tears.
In the matter of sweet corn and beans our souls were as onea sort
of spiritual succotash, as it wereand we encouraged one another in
any new departure that would increase or prolong this staple supply.
Flowers we would have pretty much every-wherehollyhocks in odd
corners; delphinium and foxglove along the stone walls; bunches of
calliopsis and bleeding-heart and peonies; borders of phlox and
alyssum; beds of sweet-williams and corn-flowers and columbinesall
those lovely, old-fashioned things, with the loveliest old-fashioned
names in the world. Where did they get those names, I wonder? for they
are among the most wonderful in the languageeach one a strain of word
music. We ordered hollyhock roots and hollyhock seed, and delphinium
roots and delphinium seed, and all the others in roots and seeds that
could be had in both ways, and roses and roses and roses, till I found
it desirable to lay aside the fascinating catalogues now and then for
certain industries in the little room behind the chimney, which I
called my study, in order to be able to provide the inclosed stamps or
check, in payment for the same.
But I believe there is no money that one spends so willingly as that
invested in garden seeds. That is because the normal human being is a
visionary, a speculator in futures, a dealer in dreams. For every penny
he spends in winter he pictures an overflowing return in beauty or
substance, in flower and fruit, the glorious harvest of radiant summer
Then came Bellaand Gibbs
We had other entertainments. I have not thus far mentioned the
domestic service that followed Lazarus. There was a hiatus of brief
duration, and then came BellaBella and Gibbs. Bella was from town and
of literary association. We inherited her from authors whose ideals
perhaps did not accord with hersI do not know. At all events, she
tried ours for a period. I know that she was considerably middle-aged,
hard of hearing, and short of sight, and that when I tried to recall
her name I could not think of anything but Hunka-munka. Heaven knows
whyit must have expressed her, I suppose.
But Hunka-munkaBella, I meanhad resources. Her specialties were
Kipling and deep-dish apple pie. We could have worried along without
Kipling, but her deep-dish pie with whipped cream on it was a poem that
won our hearts. I must be fair. Hunka-munka's cooking was all good, as
to taste, and if her vision had been a bit more extended it might have
been of better appearance. I suppose the steam collected on her
super-thick glasses and she had to work somewhat by guess. Never
mindI still recall her substantial and savory dinners with deep
gratitude, especially the pie of the deep dish with whipped cream atop.
Gibbs came when we acquired Lord Beaconsfield and the furnace. My
gifts do not run to the care of a horse and an egg-coal fire. I don t
know where Gibbs had matriculated, but he professed to have taken high
degrees in those functions, and thus became a part of our
establishment. I think he overestimated his powers in the directions
named, but he was not without talents. He could wash and wipe dishes
and, incredible as it may seem, he was also literary. Like attracts
like, by some law past understanding. To me it still seems a wonderful
thing that this little waif of a man with a taste for Tolstoy and a
passion for long words should have just then landed upon us.
Gibbs had a warm and fairly snug room in the barna veritable
bijou of an apartment, he called it, though it was, I think, something
less, and he declared that the aroma of the hay and the near presence
of Lord Beaconsfield gave him a truly bucolic emotion that was an
inspiration. Nevertheless, Gibbs could not resist Bella and her domain.
This was proper enough. He was convenient to hand her things, to help
with the dishes and to discuss deeply and at length their favorite
authors. When our meals were in preparation or safely over there was
more literature, five to one, in the kitchen than in any other part of
Sometimes the drift of it came to us. It was necessary for Gibbs to
speak up pretty smartly to get his remarks into Hunka-munka's
consciousness. Once in the heat of things we heard him say: One may
not really compare or contrast the literary emanations of Tolstoy and
Kipling except as to the net human residuum. Difference in environment
would preclude any cosmic psychology of interrelationship.
As this noble sentence came hurtling through the door I felt poor
and disheartened. Never could I hope to reach such a height. And here
was Gibbs washing dishes and tossing off those things without a
thought. Hunka-munka's reply was lost on us. Like many persons of
defective hearing, she had the habit of speaking low, but I do not
think her remarks were in the gaudy class of her associate's.
Their discussions were not entirely of Tolstoy and Kipling. There
was a neighborhood library and they took books from itbooks which I
judge became more romantic as the weeks went by. I judge this because
Gibbs grew more careful in the matter of dress, and when the days
became pleasanter the two walked down to the bridge across the brook
and looked over into the water, after the manner of heroes and heroines
in the novels of Mrs. Southworth and Bertha M. Clay.
What might have been the outcome of the discussions, the
dish-washings, the walks, the leanings over the bridge at the
trysting-place, we may only speculate now. For a time the outlook for
this romance of real life seemed promising, then came disillusion.
Gibbs, alas, had a bent which at first we did not suspect, but which in
time became only too manifest. It had its root in a laudable
desirethe desire to destroy anything resembling strong drink. Only, I
think he went at it in the wrong way. His idea was to destroy it by
drinking it up. He miscalculated his capacity. It took no great
quantity of strong waters to partially destroy Gibbs, and at such times
he was neither literary nor romantic, no fit mate for Hunka-munka, who
had a tidy sum in savings laid away and did not wish to invest it in
the destroying process. I do not know what she said to him, at last,
but there came a day when he vanished from our sight and knowledge, and
the kitchen after dinner was silent. I suppose the change was too much
for Hunka-munka, for she saddened and lost vigor. Her deep-dish pies
became savorless, the whipped cream smeary and sad of taste. She went
the way of all cooks, and if it had not been spring, with the buds
breaking and the birds calling and the trout leaping in the brook, we
should have grieved as over a broken song.
We planted a number of things
The whistle of a bird means spring; the poking through of the
skunk-cabbage in low ground, the growing green mist upon the woods. But
there is one thing that has more positive spring in it than any of
thesemore of the stir and throb of awakening, something identified
with that earliest impulse that prompted some remote ancestor to make
the first garden. I mean the smell of freshly turned earth with the sun
on it. Nothing else is like that; there is a kind of madness in it.
Elizabeth said it was a poem. It is that and something morea pæan, a
marching songa summons to battle.
Luther Merrill came up to plow the space back of the barn. When he
had turned up a furrow or so to the warm April sun, and I got a whiff
of it, reason fled. I began capering about with a rake and a hoe,
shouting to Elizabeth to bring the seedsall the seedsalso the
catalogues, so that we might order more. Why, those little packages
were only a beginning! We must have pounds, quarts, bushels. And we
must have other thingssweet-potatoes, for instance, and asparaguswe
have overlooked those.
Elizabeth came, and was bitten by that smell, too, but she partially
kept her balance. She was in favor of the asparagus and sweet-potatoes,
but she said she thought we had better plant what we had of the other
things and see how far they would go, before ordering more. She said
the seed-houses would probably have enough to go around even a week or
so later, and we could use what we had on hand in making what the
catalogues referred to as the first sowing. I was not entirely
satisfied, but I submitted. I was too much excited, too glad, to oppose
anything. Luther Merrill plowed around and around, and then harrowed
and cross-harrowed, while we sorted the yellow packets and picked the
earliest things and were presently raking and marking on beds and rows,
warm with the fever of tillage.
We did not always agree as to the order of planting. In our small
commuter garden we had been restricted by space limitations and had
fallen into the habit of planting rows a good deal closer together than
the directions on the packets saidan economy of ground, but not of
toil. I had frequently weeded the beds, and had found that my feet were
not suited to working between rows six inches apart, while even a
baby-sized hoe had to be handled with great care. I said, now that we
had the space, we would separate our rows of beets and radishes and
salad full ten to fourteen inches, as advised by the authorities who
had written the package directions, and thus give both the plants and
the gardener more room.
But Elizabeth had acquired the economy habit. She declared that such
rows gave more room for the weeds and that it was too bad to waste the
rich ground in that way. I had to draw the most pathetic picture of
myself bending over in the hot sun, working with a toy hoe, and pulling
weeds with my fingers, through long July days, to effect a compromise.
Experience had taught me that this was the best way to get concessions
from Elizabeth. Little could be gained by polemic argument. Besides, it
was dangerous. She would resign, and a good deal more than half the joy
would go out of that precious employment if I was left to finish it
alone. Women are so volatile. It is their main attraction.
The Joy helped us. That is, she had a little hoe and insisted on
digging with it in the very places where we were raking and marking and
sowing and patting down the fragrant earth that was presently to wax
green with fruitfulness. She was not satisfied to go off in a remote
corner and make a garden of her own. She was strong for community life,
and required close watching. It was necessary, at last, to let her
plant a crooked little row without direction or artistic balance. Then
she suddenly remembered that she was not a gardener, but a horse, and
plowed and harrowed back and forth across the mellow ground.
We planted a number of things that first day of our gardening in
Brook Ridgelong rows of lettuce and radishes and peasethe last
named two kinds, the bush and dwarf varieties. Pease cannot be sown too
early, nor the other things, for that matter. I have known the ground
to freeze solid after lettuce and radishes had begun to sprout, without
serious resulting damage. We put in some beets, too, and some onions,
but we postponed the corn and bean planting. There is nothing gained by
putting those tender things in too early. Even if they sprout, they do
not thrive unless the weather is really warm, while a light frost lays
them low. More than once I have tried very early corn-planting, but
never with much result. Once I had quite a patch of it up about three
inches high when the wind suddenly went to the north and it was certain
that the night would bring frost. I gathered up all the old cans and
boxes and hats on the premises and covered every hill of it. That was a
good scheme, and most of my corn survived, but six weeks later, when it
was green and waving, a neighbor's cow got in and ate it to the last
piece. No, fate is against early corn-planting.
We had seed enough for all we wanted to plant that first day, and a
good deal more than enough of some things. It's remarkable how many
lettuce seeds there are in a buff packet. I sowed and sowed without
being able to use up two packets. I don't see how they can raise and
gather so many for five cents. It was the same with most of the other
things. I did not need to reorder, and by night I did not particularly
want to. It had been a pretty long day of raking and digging and
patting down, and I had got over some of the intoxication of the earth
smell. Also, I was lame. I could see that tending a garden of the size
we had plannedalong, say, in Julywas going to be a chore. No one as
yet had come to replace our ex-domestic staff: if no one came that
chore would fall to me. In the gray of the evening my enthusiasm was at
rather low ebb. It was all I could do to make out an order for
asparagus and sweet-potato plants. A cool, quiet bed, in a spring land
where frogs are peeping in the moist places, is sweet after such a day.
Out of the blue
We were not permanently abandoned, however. Bella and Gibbs, our
literary forces, were presently replaced by Lena and William. Lena and
William were not literary. William was just plain Tipperary, and Lena
was a Finn. I extracted Lena one day from a Norsk Employment Agency,
selecting her chiefly for her full-moon smile and her inability to
speak any English word. The smile had a permanent look, and I reasoned
that an inability to speak English would be a bar to her getting away.
We should not mind it much ourselves. Having had everything from a Pole
to a Patagonian, we were experts on sign language, and rather favored
it after the flow of English we had just survived. I personally
conducted Lena to the train and landed her safely at Brook Ridge.
William came to us out of the blue. One morning I drew a tin pail of
water, bright and splashing from the well, and turned to pour a little
of it into the birds drinking-trough, a stone hollowed out at the top.
I did not do so, however, for a good reasona man was sitting on the
stone. He had not been there a moment before, and I had heard no sound.
He was gaunt, pale, and dilapidated, and looked as if he had been in a
sort of general dog fight. He had a wild cast in his eyes and was in no
way prepossessing. His appearance suggested a burglar on sick-leave.
I confess I was startled by this apparition. I set down the pail
Why, good morning! I said.
He replied in a high-keyed Irish intonation, at the moment rather
feeble in volume.
C'u'd ye give a man a bite to eat fer some worrk, now? he asked.
I was relieved. If he had demanded my purse I should not have been
surprised. I nodded eagerly.
Yes, indeed. We need some wood. If you'll cut a little, I'll see
that you have some breakfast. You'll find the wood-pile and the ax down
there by the barn.
He rose by a sort of slow unfolding process, and I was impressed by
his height. I gave him some specifications as to the wood needed, and
he was presently swinging the ax, though without force. He lacked
pep, I could see that, and as soon as the food was ready I called
him. He ate little, but he emptied the pot of hot coffee in record
time. Then he came down to where I was trimming some rose-bushes.
W'u'd ye let me lie a bit on the hay? he said. Thin I'll do some
more of the little shtove-shticks fer yeh. I'm feelin' none too brisk
Been sick? I asked.
Naw, just a trrifle weery with trav'lin' an' losin' of sleep.
Inside I hesitated. It was probably overtime at housebreaking that
had told on him. I pointed at the barn, however.
All right, I said, take a naponly, don t smoke in there.
He vanished, and some three hours later when I had forgotten him I
suddenly heard a sound of great chopping. Our guest had reappeared at
the wood-pile, transformed. He was no longer pale and listless. His
face was ruddyin fact, tanned. The cast in his eye had taken on fire.
Every movement was of amazing vigor and direction. The wood-pile was
disappearing and the little heap of stove-sticks growing in a most
astonishing way. I called Elizabeth out to see.
If coffee and a nap will make him do that. I said, we'd better
give him dinner and get enough wood to last all summer. I went down
there. What is your name? I asked.
Well, William, you seem to understand work. Come up to dinner
presently, and if you want to go on cutting this afternoon I'll pay you
He came, and there was nothing the matter with his appetite this
time. Ham and eggs, potatoes, beans, corn-bread, piewhatever came
went. William was the apostle of the clean plate. Reflecting somewhat
on the matter, I reached the conclusion (and it was justified by later
events) that William had perhaps been entertaining himself with friends
the night beforeduring several nights before, I judgeand was
suffering from temporary reaction when he had appeared on our horizon.
Coffee and a nap had restored him. He was quick on recovery, I will say
You never saw such a hole in a wood-pile as he made that afternoon.
When I went down to settle with him and announce supper he was still in
full swing, apparently intending to go on all night.
William, I said, you're a boss hand with an ax.
Well, sur, said William, his Celtic timbre pitched to the sky, if
I could be shtayin' a day or two longer I'd finish the job fer ye.
Was this a proposition to rob the house and murder us in our beds? I
looked at the wood-pile and at William. There was something about their
intimate relations that had an honest look. I remembered the extensive
garden that would have to be hoed in July.
Where would you go from here? I said.
I don't know, sur. I'll be lookin' fer a job.
Do you understand gardening and taking care of a horse and cow?
Yes, sur, I do that.
I had an impulse to ask him about his last job, but I checked it. It
was a question that could lead to embarrassment. I would accept him on
his demonstration, or not at all.
So you want a summer job, at general farm-work?
Yes, sur, I do.
Well, William, you've found one, right here.
Even after the lapse of a dozen years I cannot write of William
without a tugging at the heart. We never knew his antecedentsnever
knew where behind the sky-line he had been concealed all those years
before that morning when he appeared, pale and unannounced, at the
well. We got the impression, as time passed, that he had once been
married and that he had at some time been somewhere on a peach-farm.
With the exception of certain brief intervalsof which I may speak
laterhe remained with us three years, and that was as much as we ever
knew, for he talked little, and not at all of the past. His face value
was certainly not much, and some of his habits could have been
improved, but a more faithful and honest soul than William Deegan never
Ah, the bonny cow!
We had acquired Mis' Cow a few weeks before William's arrival. It
was partly on account of the milk that we wanted her, partly because
there was an empty stall next to Old Beek's and we thought she would be
company for him, partly because we wanted a cow in the landscapea
moving picture of her in the green pasture across the roadfinally
(and I believe principally) because we have a mania for restoring
things and Mis' Cow looked as if she needed to be restored.
She was owned by a man who was moving awaymoving because he had
not made a success of chicken-farming by book, and still less of Mis'
Cow. He was not her first owner, nor her second, nor her third. I don't
know what his number was on her list of owners, but I know if he had
kept her much longer he would have been her last one. More than once we
had bought the mere frame of a haircloth couch, and taken an esthetic
pleasure in having it polished and upholstered, and made into a thing
of beauty and service. It was with this view that we acquired Mis Cow,
who at the moment was a mere frame with a patchy Holstein covering and
a feebly hanging tail. We gave thirty-five dollars for her, and the man
who was moving because he had not made a success of chickens threw in a
single buggy that broke down the week after he left.
We consulted Westbury on the matter of Mis' Cow's past history, and
it was the only time I ever knew W. C. Westbury to be inexact as to the
age and habits of any animal in Brook Ridge. He said he had always
known her as a good milker, but that she had been unfortunate of late
years in her owners. He couldn't remember her age, but he didn't think
it was enough to hurt her. My opinion is that he could have given her
exact birthday and record had he really tried, but that kindness of
heart prompted him to encourage a trade that might improve her
fortunes. I suspect that they had played together in childhood.
We managed to get Mis' Cow up the hill and into her stall, where we
could provide her with upholstery material. The little pasture across
the road was getting green and she presently had the full run of it.
The restoring progress began, as it were, overnight. If ever an article
of furniture paid a quick return in the matter of looks, she did. She
could never be a very fat Mis' Cowshe was not of that build. But a
few days of good food and plenty of it certainly worked wonders. She
filled out several of the most alarming hollows around her hips and
along her ridge-pole, she seemingly took on height and length. She grew
smooth, even glossy; her tail no longer hung on her like a bell-cord,
but became a lithe weapon of defense that could swat a fly with fatal
precision on any given spot of her black-and-white area. It was only a
little while until we were really proud to have her in the landscape,
and the picture she made grazing against the green or standing in the
apple shade was really gratifying. When the trees were pink and white
with bloom and Mis' Cow rested under them, chewing in time to her long
reflections, we often called one another out to admire the pastoral
scene. A visiting friend of Scotch ancestry was moved to exclaim, Ah,
the bonny cow!
Then there was the matter of milkshe certainly justified
Westbury's reputation in that respect. From a quart or two of thin,
pale unusable fluid her daily dividend grew into gallons of foaming
richness that became pitchers of cream and pounds of butter; for
Elizabeth, like myself, had known farming in an earlier day, and rows
of milk-pans and a churn went with her idea of the simple life. All day
Mis' Cow munched the new grass, and night and morning yielded a
brimming pail. She was a noble worker, I will say that.
But there was another side to Mis' Cowa side which Westbury forgot
to mention. Mis' Cow was an acrobat. When she had been on bran mash and
clover for a few weeks she showed a decided tendency to be gayto
caper and kick up her heelsto break away into the woods or down the
road, if one was not watching. But this was not allthis was mere
ordinary cow nature, which is more foolish and contrary than any other
kind of nature except that which goes with a human being or a hen. I
was not surprised at these thingsthey were only a sign that she was
getting tolerably restored, according to specifications. But when one
day I saw her going down the road, soon after I had turned her into the
pasture and carefully put up the bars, I realized that she had special
gifts. Stone walls did not a prison makenot for her. Elizabeth and I
rounded her up and got her back into the pasture, and from concealment
I watched her. She fed peacefully enough, for some time, then,
doubtless believing herself unobserved, she took a brief promenade
along the wall until she came to what looked like a promising place,
and simply walked over it, like a goat.
We herded her into the barn, and I engaged a man to put a string of
wire above the wall. That was effective as long as it was in repair.
But it was Mis' Cow's business to see that it did not remain in repair
permanently. She would examine it during idle moments, pick out a weak
spot in the entanglement, and pull it flat with her horns. Or where the
wall was broad enough at the top she would climb up and walk it, just
for exercise, stepping over when she got ready. If she could have been
persuaded to do those things to order I could have sold her to a
circus. It was necessary to reinforce the wire and add another string.
Even that was not always a cure. I came home from the city one
night, after a hard day. Elizabeth and the Joy, with Old Beek, had met
me at the station, and as we drove up the hill in the dim evening I
said how glad I was to get home, and that Elizabeth had milked, so that
I could drop into a chair and eat my supper and rest, the minute I
entered the house. We reached the top of the hill just then, and a dim
gray shadow met and passed us in the velvet dusk. It was Mis' Cow,
starting out to spend the night. She was moving with a long, swinging
trot, and in another second I was out and after her.
She had several rods' start and could run downhill better than I
could, especially in the dark. It seemed to me that every step I went
plunging out into space. My empty stomach became demoralized, the blood
rushed to my head. Gosh dern a cow, anyway! By the time we had
reached Westbury's and started up the next hill I had made up my mind
to sell herto give her awayto drive her off the premises. Some
people were standing in front of the next house and they laughed as we
went by, we being about neck and neck at the time. Westbury was in that
crowd, and for the moment our friendship was in grave danger. But then
we came to the house of the man who had made a failure of book
chicken-farming, and she darted in. She had remembered it as her home
and wanted to return to it. Imagine wanting to go back to such a home!
Westbury came, and we got a rope on her and led her uphill. I
suppose I felt better in the morning, and it was about this time that
William arrived on the scene. William loved Mis' Cow and did not mind
chasing her up and down the road and through the bushes, though
sometimes during the summer, when he had had a hard day with her, and
our windows were open, we could hear him still hi-hi-ing and whooping
in his sleep, chasing Mis' Cow through the woods of dream.
Strawberries and trout. How is that for a combination?
[Illustration: I remember that as a golden summer, an
enthusiastic summer, and, on the whole, a successful one]
I remember that as a golden summer, an enthusiastic summer, and, on
the whole, a successful one. Our early garden grewalso the second
planting and the third. William Deegan made it his business to see that
they did. I realized presently that my special forte lay in directing a
sizable garden like that rather than in performing the actual labor,
especially when June arrived and the sun began to approach the
perpendicular and take on callithump. You probably don't know what
callithump is, but you will find out if you undertake to hoe sod-ground
potatoes in July. It has something to do with brazen trumpets and
I became acquainted with callithump when I straightened out the
asparagus-bed. The weeds had got a master start there, and the feeble
feathery asparagus shoots were quite overtopped and lost. I said the
job required a microscopic eye and a delicate hand. I would set the
asparagus-bed in order myself.
It is surprising how much ground a hundred asparagus roots can
cover. Elizabeth had superintended their planting, during a period when
I had been absent, and, remembering my mania for having things far
apart, she had let herself go in the matter of space. She had made it
rich, too, and the weeds just loved it. Some of them were up to my
waist. I said they would have to be pulled by hand and I would get up
in the cool of the morning and do it.
It is almost impossible to beat the sun up in June. I was out there
at five o'clock, but the sun was already busy and had got the range. By
the time I had pulled half-way down one row I could feel the callithump
working. Also something else. We claimed to have no mosquitoes in Brook
Ridge, so it could not have been those. Whatever it was kept me
swearing steadily, and pawing and slapping and sweating blood. When I
had finished a row I crept in, got some fresh clothes and a towel, and
made a dash for the brook. I had cleaned out a special pool behind the
ice-house, and built a little dressing-platform. In less than a minute
I was in the water, looking up at the sky and hearing the birds sing.
Talk about luxury! After breakfast I took Elizabeth out to show her my
It looks nice, she said, and how easily you did it!
It took me four memorable mornings to finish the asparagus-bed, and,
proud as I was of the job, I resigned, after that, in favor of William.
The brazen trumpets of the sky even at high noon could not phase W.
Deegan. Often in July I have sat in the maple shade, with pride
watching him carry out my directions concerning weeds and potato-bugs.
I admired and honored William. I have the greatest respect for
honorable toil, but even more for callithump.
Sometimes in the early morning I went trout-fishing. There is more
fascination and less waste tissue in that. I would creep down while the
house was still and get my rod and basket, and take a sheltered lane
that was like a green tunnel through the woods, where the birds were
just tuning up for a concert, then out across the bean-lot, to strike
the brook at about the head of navigationfor trout.
They were plenty enough and just of the right sizethat is to say,
eight to eleven inches longand easy enough to get if one was very
careful. You could not cast for them; the brook was too small and
brushy for that. You had to use a very short line, and wind it around
the end of the rod, and work it through the branches, and then
carefully, very carefully, unwind and let the hook drop lightly on the
water. Then as likely as not there would be a swift, tingling tug, and,
if you were lucky, an instant later you would have a beautiful
red-speckled fellow landed among the grass and field flowers, his gay
colors glancing in the sun.
The open places also required maneuvering. One does not walk up to
the bank and fish for wild troutnot in a stream that is as clear as
glass and where every fish in it can see the slightest movement on the
bank. To fish such a place is to lie flat on the stomach and work
forward inch by inch through the grass, Indian fashion, until the water
is in reach. Even then you must not look, but feel, unwinding the line
slowly, slowly, until the fly or worm taps the water. Then if you have
done it well and the trout is there, and it is June, there will be
resultssharp, quick, sudden results that insure the best breakfast in
the worldhot fried trout, fresh from a New England brook.
The Joy went with me on some of these excursions. She liked to have
me call her early and go tiptoing and whispering about our preparations
and to wade off through the dewy grass in her rubber boots, leaving the
rest of the house asleep. She generally carried the basket, and was
deeply interested in my maneuvers when the cry of the teacher"-bird
and the call of the wood-thrush did not distract her attention. I can
still see the grass up to her fat little waist, her comical blue apron,
her dimpled round face and the sunlight on her hair. She had a deep
pity for the trout, but her sporting instinct was deeper still.
Sometimes when there was a slip, and a big shining fellow would go
bouncing and splashing back into the brook, she would jump up and down
and demand, excitedly:
Why didn't you catch that one, Daddy? Why didn't you catch him?
That was a big, big, big one? And she walked very proudly when
we had six or more to carry back for breakfast.
Strawberries and trouthow is that for a breakfast combination in
June? Trout just from the water and strawberries fresh from the garden.
We had planted a good patch of strawberries the August of our arrival
and they had done wonderfully well for the first year. Often by the
time we had come from fishing Elizabeth had been out and filled a bowl,
and sometimes even made a short-cake, for we were old-fashioned enough
to love short-cakeold-fashioned short-cake made with biscuit dough
(not the sweet-cake kind) for breakfast. And breakfast with trout and
short-cakeshort-cake with cream, mind you!in New England in June,
when the windows open on the grass and the wood-thrushes are calling,
is just about as near paradise as you can get in this old world.
Fate produced a man who had chickens to sell
With June the Pride and the Hope came home from school. The brook,
the barn, Old Beek, and Mis' Cow all had their uses thenalso a tent
in the yard, a swing, hammock and whatnot. When God made the country He
made it especially for children. Burning suns, a weedy garden and
potato blight may dismay the old, but such things do not fret the young
mind. As long as the brook is cool and the fields are sweet and there
is fresh milk and succotash on the table, happy childhood is
indifferent to care.
We were given to picnics. Often we packed some food things into a
basket and went into the woods and spread them in a shady place. Lena,
the Finn, sometimes accompanied these excursions and went quite mad
with the delight of them, racing about and digging up flowers and
shrubs to plant in the door-yard, fairly whooping it up in joyful
Finnish and such English words as she had acquired. I believe the
aspect of our woods reminded her of Finland.
Lena was a good soul, that is certain, and measurably instructive.
We learned from her how priceless is the gift of good nature, which was
the chief thing that kept her with us; also, to eat a number of dishes
quite new to us, and that an apple-treeor perhaps it was an apple,
baked or in dumplingwas, in her speech, an ominy poo. She was not
strong on desserts, but she could always fall back on the ominy
poomeaning in a general way the big sweet-apple tree that grew by the
barn and was loaded to the breaking-point with delicious fruit. Any
baked apple is good, but a big, cold, baked sweet-applepunkin
sweets, Westbury called themwith cold cream, plenty of it, and a
sprinkle of sugar, is about the most blithesome thing in the world.
Hurrah for the ominy poo! whether it be the tree, or the fruit, baked
or in dumplings. When the strawberry passed and was not, the ominy poo
reigned gloriously. I don't know what Lena called certain other dishes
that from time to time she tried to substitutesome other kind of poo,
maybeI know we gradually persuaded her away from them into a better
way of life.
Sometimes we joined our picnics with the Westburys'loaded our
baskets into a little hand-express wagon, or into the surrey behind
Lord Beaconsfieldand these were quite elaborate affairs that required
a good deal of preparation and meant a general holiday. More than once
we spread long tables on the green of Westbury's shaded lawn that
sloped down to the river and the mill, and was a picture-place, if ever
there was one. Other days we went over the hills for huckleberriesand
came home with pails of the best fruit that grows for pies, bar none.
Happy daysdays of peacea true golden age, as it seems now. Will the
world, I wonder, ever be so happy and golden again?
* * * * *
We had no intention of embarking in chickens when we settled in
Brook Ridge. Neither of us had any love for chickens on foot, and we
had no illusions about the fortunes that, according to certain books,
could be made from a setting of eggs and a tin henan incubator, I
mean. Also, our experiment with pigs had cooled us in the matter of
live stock for profit.
Still, we did love chickens in their proper placethat is to say,
with dumplings or dressing and some of the nice jellies and things
which Elizabeth had made during those autumn months of our arrival. It
seemed extravagant to have them often; chickens had become chickens
since our long-ago early acquaintance with them, when two bits had
been a fancy price for broilers and old hens. Elizabeth finally
conceded that perhaps a few chickensa very few, kept in a neat
inclosure away from the gardenmight be desirable. It would be so
handy to have one when we wanted it. She even hinted that the sound of
a satisfied and reflective hen singing about the barn would add a rural
note to our pastoral harmony. Then, of course, there would be the eggs.
Fate produced a man, just at that moment, who had chickens to sell.
He had been called away, and would let his flock go cheaphe had about
a dozen, he thought, assorted as to age and condition. We could have
them for fifty cents each. It seemed an opportunity. William Deegan was
instructed to prepare the neat inclosure, which he did with enthusiasm,
William being enamoured of anything that was alive.
The man who had been called away had made a poor count of his flock.
He arrived with nearly twice as many as he said, but we were in the
mood by that time, and took over the bunch. They were not a very
inspiring lot. They were of no special breed, but just chickensa
long-legged, roostery set, with a mixture of frazzled hens of years and
experience. We said, however, that food and care would improve them.
Remember what it had done for Mis' Cow.
Ye'll be after eatin' thim roosters, prisently, William commented,
as we looked at them through the inclosing wire, before they be
gettin' much older. Ye'll be wantin' eggs from the hins.
William's remark seemed wise. We were wanting the eggs, all right,
and those ten or twelve speedy-looking roosters ought to go to the
platter without much delay. We would feed liberally and begin on the
best ones, forthwith.
Still, we did not have chicken that day, nor the next. There is
nothing so perverse as the human appetite. Those were not really bad
chickens, and in a few days they were much better. If any one of those
middle-aged roosters had been brought to us by the butcher we would
have paid the usual dollar for it, and, baked and browned and served
with fixings, it would have gone well enough, even though a trifle
muscular and somewhat resilient.
But somehow this was a different proposition. I don't believe I can
explain just why. There was something about the aggregation as a whole
that was discouraging. I suspect William's remark that they must be
eaten prisently had something to do with it. Eating those chickens
was not to be an entertainment, a pastime, but a joba job that
increased, for the old hins did not lay, or very sparinglyan egg a
day being about the average. William brought it in solemnly. We had got
to devour that entire flock of chickens, and the thought became daily
less attractive. Even our tribe of precious ones, who had always been
chicken-hungry before, suddenly became indifferent to the idea of
chicken fried, baked, or in fricassee. I said, at last, we would have
to have a series of picnics. Anything would taste good at a picnic.
I don't remember how many we used up in that way, but I know the
business of getting rid of those chickens seemed interminable. We tried
working them off on William and Lena, but even they balked
before the end was reached. I have heard it stated that no one can eat
thirty quails in thirty days. I don't know about that, but I know that
when we tried to put over a dozen chickens on Lena and William in six
weeks it was a failure. At last we were reduced to one old hen, who by
general consent was made immune. Also free. The garden was too far
advanced for her to damage it. The door of the neat wire inclosure was
left open for her to go and come at will. There was danger of foxes at
night, but we did not shut it. The foxes, however, did not come. Even
foxes have to draw the line somewhere. That venerable old lady wandered
about the place, pecking and contentedly singing, and in that part we
really became fond of her. I think she died at last of old age.
I planted some canterbury-bells
I believe our agriculture may be said to have been successful.
William was a faithful gardener. His corn, beans, pease, and potatoes
were abundant, and all the other good things, whether to eat boiled,
raw, or roasted. Our table was almost embarrassed by these riches,
which perhaps helped us to weaken on the chicken idea.
I think our favorite staple was corngreen sweet corn, carried
directly from the patch to the pot, and from the pot to the table. If
you have not eaten it under these conditions you have never really
known what green corn should be like. The flavor of corn begins to go
the moment it is pulled from the stalk, also the moment it leaves the
pot. Cooked instanter, buttered, with salt and pepper, eaten the moment
it does not blister your mouth, it is the pride of the garden. Cooked
the next day and eaten when it has become cool and flabby, it becomes a
reproach. It is different with beans. Beans keep, and, hot or cold or
warmed over, they are never to be despised. The heaping platters of
corn and the bowls of beans that our family could destroy after a
morning of hearty exercise were rather staggering. Then presently the
cantaloups camefragrant, juicy ones, and all the salads, andoh,
well, never mind the listI have heard of living like a lord, but I
can't imagine any lord ever living as near to the sap and savor of
life's luxuries as we did.
I must not overlook our rye. By June it was a cloth of gold, and of
such elevation that I could barely see over it. There is something
stately and wonderful about standing rye, when one is close enough to
see the individual stalks. They are so tall and slim that you cannot
understand why the lightest wind does not lay them flat. Yet all day
long they sway and ripple and billow in the summer wind, and unless the
heavy, driving storm comes the ranks remain unbroken to the last and
face the sickle in golden dress parade.
Westbury came with a force of men one blazing morning, and the sound
of the cutting-machine was a music that carried me back to days when I
had followed the reaper in the Mississippi Valley, from the first ray
of sunrise to the last ray of sunset, eaten five times a day, drunk
water out of a jug under the shock, and once picked up a bundle with a
snake in it and jumped fourteen feet, more or less, straight up in the
air. It was not that I was afraid, you understand, but just surprised.
Snakes nearly always surprise me. I remember once when I was a little
boy, on the way to visit a friend about my size, I took a short cut
across a little clearing, and was hopping and singing along when I
hopped onto something firm that moved twistingly under my bare foot. I
did not jump or run that time; I merely opened out my wings and flew.
Corn-rows, brush-piles, fences, were as nothing. I sailed over them
like a gnat till I reached the big main road. I was not interested in
short cuts, after that, and I didn't cross that field again for years.
I was not afraid, but I did not wish to be surprised again. I recall
But this is not a snake story. I told Westbury that I could bind as
well as ever, and would give them an exhibition of a few rounds. But it
was impressively hot and at about the third bundle I remembered an
important memorandum I wanted to make, and excused myself. It was quite
pleasant in my study, and I kept on making memorandums until by and by
Westbury sent the Hope to tell me that they'd like me to come out and
give the rest of the exhibition. It was not very considerate of
Westbury when I was busy that way, and I ignored his suggestion.
We did not go in for selling seed rye, as I had once contemplated,
but I think we might have done so if there had been a demand. Westbury
and the men put it into the barn, and later flailed it out on the barn
floor, after the manner of Abraham and Boaz and Bildad the Shuhite,
beating the flails in time and singing a song that Bildad himself
composed. Who would have a dusty, roaring thrashing-machine when one
can listen to the beating flails and be back with Boaz and Bildad in
the days when the world was new?
* * * * *
Just a word more of our vegetable experiments. For one thing, our
asparagus-bed thrived. Those hot mornings I put in paid the biggest
return of any early-morning investment I ever made. Each year it came
better and betterin May and June we could not keep up with it and
shared it with our neighbors. The farm-dweller who does not plant an
asparagus-bed as quickly as he can get the ground ready, and the plants
for it, makes a grave mistake.
Perhaps I ought to record here that our sweet-potatoes were a
success. We were told that they would not grow in New England, but they
grew for us and were sweet and plentiful.
The waning of the year in a garden is almost the best of it, I
think. Spring with its thrill of promise, summer with its
fulfilmentmeager or abundant, according to the seasonare over. Then
comes September and October, the season of cool, even brisk, mornings
and mellow afternoons. It is remnant-day in the garden, the time to
take a basket and go bargain-hunting on the as is counter. Where the
carrots have been gathered there are always a few to be found, if one
looks carefully, and in the melon-patch there is sure to be one or two
that still hold the bouquet of summer, with something added that has
come with the first spicy mornings of fall. Also, if one is lucky, he
will find along the yellowing rows a few ears of corn, tender enough
and sweet enough for the table, with not quite the flavor of July,
perhaps, but with something that appeals as much to the imagination,
that belongs with the spectral sunlight, the fading stalks and vines,
and carries the memory back to that first day of April planting. To
bring in a basket, however scanty, of those odds and ends and range
them side by side on the kitchen table affords a gratification that is
not entirely material, I believe, for there is a sort of pensive
sadness in it that I have been told is related to poetry.
* * * * *
I have said little of our flowers, but they were a large
partsometimes I think the largest partof our happiness. Going back
through the summers now, I cannot quite separate those of that first
year from those of the summers that followed. It does not matter;
sooner or later we had all the old-fashioned things: hollyhocks in
clusters and corners, and on the high ground in a long row against the
sky; poppies and bleeding-heart, columbine and foxglove, bunches of
crimson bee-balm and rows of tall delphinium in marvelous shades of
blue. And we had banks of calliopsis and sunflowersthe small
sunflowers of Kansas, that bloom a hundred or more to a stalkand tall
phlox whose fragrance carries one back to some far, forgotten
childhood. Then there were the rosesthe tea-roses that one must be
careful of in winter and the hardy climbersthe Dorothy Perkins and
ramblers clambering over the walls. As I look back now through the
summers I seem to see a tangle of color stretching across the years. It
is our gardenour flowersalways a riot of disorder, always a care
and a trial, always beloved and glorious.
One year I planted some canterbury-bellsthe blue and the white.
They are biennials, and bloom the second year. The blue ones came
wonderfully, but the white ones apparently failed. I did not plant them
again, for I went in mainly for perennials that, once established, come
year after year. I tried myosotis, too, but that also disappeared after
the second year. Our garden, such as it was, was a hardy garden, where
only the fittest survived.
There was an accompaniment to our garden. It was the brook. Nearly
always, as I dug and planted, I could hear its voice. Sometimes it rose
strong and insistentin spring, when rains were plenty; sometimes in
August when the sky for weeks had been hard and dry, it sank to a low
murmur, but it was seldom silent. All the year through its voice was a
lilting undertone, and the seasons ran away to the thread of its silver
After all, a garden in any season is whatever it seems to its owner.
To one who plans and plants it, tends and loves it, any garden is a
world in little, a small realm of sentient personalities, of quaint and
lovely associations, of anxious strivings and concerns, of battles, of
triumphs, and of defeats. To one who makes a garden under compulsion it
is merely an inclosure of dirt and persistent weeds, a place of sun and
sweat and some more or less perverse and reluctant vegetables that
would be much more pleasantly obtained from the market-wagon. There is
no personality in it to him, nor any poetry. I know this, because I was
once that kind of a gardener myself. It was when I was a boy and had to
hoe one every Saturday forenoon, when there were a number of other
things I wanted to do. It was almost impossible to study lovingly the
miracle of the garden when duty was calling me to play short-stop on
the baseball nine that I knew was assembling on the common, with some
irresponsible one-gallus substitute in my place. Yet even in those days
I loved the fall garden. The hoeing was all done then, the weeds were
no longer my enemies. One could dig around among them and find a
belated melon, and in the mellow sunlight, between faded corn-rows,
scoop out its golden or ruby heart and reflect on many things.
And how the family did grow up!
As I look back now, that first year on our abandoned farm seems a
good deal like the years that followed it; but it could not have been
so, for when I consider to-day's aspect and circumstance I realize that
each of our twelve years of ownership furnished events that were to us
unusual, some of them, at the time, even startling.
We must have enjoyed a kind of prosperity, I suppose, for we seem
always to have been planning or doing something to enlarge the house or
improve its surroundings, and quite a good deal of money can be spent
in that way. I think it was about the second year that for the sake of
light and air we let out three dormer windows on the long roof, and I
remember that in order not to make a mistake in their architecture we
drove thirty miles one morning to see a house like ours which had owned
its windows from the beginning. We loved our old house, you see, and
did not wish to do it an injury. I think it was about the same time
that we pulled off the plaster from the living-room ceiling and left
the exposed beamsold hewn timbers which we tinted down with a dull
stain. William Deegan and I stained those beams together, and our
friendship ripened during that employment. William had been with us
about a year at this periodnot steadily, because now and then would
come a day when with sadness and averted eyes he would say, I think
I'll be goin' now, for a little while, after which the effacement of
William for perhaps a week, followed by his return some morning, pale,
delapidated, as on the morning of his first arrival.
In the beginning I had argued, even remonstrated, but without
effect. William only said, humbly: It comes over me to be goin', and I
have to do it. I'll be dacent ag'in, whin I get back.
During one such period of absence there came a telephone call from
the sheriff of the nearest town of size.
Do you know a man named William Deegan?
He is in the calaboose here. His fine and costs amount to five
dollars. Do you want to redeem him?
Clearly William's vacation had been unusual, even for him. We sent
up the money and William was home that night, more crushed, more pale,
more dilapidated than ever. He had worn a new suit away. He returned
with a mere rag. We thought this might cure him, but nothing could do
that. We could redeem William, but he could not redeem himself. These
occasional lapses were the only drawback of that faithful, industrious
soul, and we let them go. We had been unable to forgive them in the
light-headed, literary Gibbs.
But William here is a digression; I was speaking of our
improvements. We decided one year that we must have more flowersa
real garden. We made it on the side of the house where before had been
open fieldwalled in a space where there was an apple-tree, a place
large enough to assemble all the things we loved most and that grew
with an economy of care. In a little while it was a glorious tangle
that we admired exceedingly, and that our artist friends tried to
Another year we converted my study behind the chimney into a pantry,
opened it into the kitchen, made the best room into a dining-room,
and left the long living-room with the big fireplace for library use
only. That was a radical change and I had to build me a study over on a
cedar slopea good deal of a house, in fact, where I could gather my
traps about me, for with the years my work had somehow invited a
paraphernalia of shelves and files, and a variety of other furniture
that required room. It was better for a growing-up family, too. With me
out of the house, they had more freedom to grow up in, which, after
all, was their human right, and the growing-up machinery could revolve
as noisily as it pleased without furnishing a procrastinating author an
added excuse for not working. No author with a growing-up family should
work in his own home. He is impossible enough under even the best
And how the family did grow up. Why, once when they were home from
school I came from the study one day to find a young man in the
housea strange young man, from somewhere in the school neighborhood.
I couldn't imagine what he was doing there until I was taken aside and
it was explained to me that he was there to see our eldest, the Pride.
That little girl, imagine! It is true she was eighteenI counted, up
on my fingers to seebut the Pride! why, only yesterday she was
bare-footed, wading in the brook. Somehow I couldn't make it seem
And then one eventful day
I suppose it was about that time that we acquired a carit would be
likely to be about that time. 'Most everybody was getting cars, and
Lord Beaconsfield, good Old Beek, was getting slower each year and
could no longer keep up even with our deliberate progress. Furthermore,
I learned to drive the car, in time. It is true I knocked some
splinters from the barn, put a crimp in a mud-guard, and smashed
another man's tail-light in the process, but nothing fatal occurred,
though I found it a pretty good plan to stick fairly close to my new
study on the cedar slope if I wanted to keep up with the garage and
damage bills. Those bills startled me, at first, and then, like
everybody else, I became callous and reckless, and we did without a
good many other things in order that the car might not go unshod or
climb limpingly the stiff New England hills.
And then at last, one eventful daya day far back in that happy,
halcyon age when ships sailed as freely across the ocean as ferry-boats
across the North River and men roved at will among the nations of the
earthone sunny August morning, eight years after the day of our
coming, we locked the old house behind us and drove away in the car to
a New York pier and sailed with it (the car, I mean, not the pier) to
the Mediterranean, and the shores of France. In that fair land, while
the world was still at peace, we wandered for more than a year, resting
where we chose, as long as we chose, all the more unhurried and happy
for not knowing that we were seeing the end of the Golden Age. Oh,
those lovely days when we went gipsying along the roads of Provence and
Picardy and Touraine! I cannot write of them now, for in to-day's shock
of battle they have already become unreal and dreamlike. I touch them
and the bloom vanishes. But sometimes when I do not try to write, and
only lean back and close my eyes, I can catch again a little of their
breath and sweetness; I can see the purpling vineyards and the poppied
fields; I can drift once more with Elizabeth and our girls through the
wonderland of France.
[Illustration: It was on a winter evening that I drove our car
back to its old place in the barn, after its long journeyings by land
War came and brought the ruin of the world. It was late in the year
when we returned to America, and it was on a winter evening that I
drove our car back to its old place in the barn, after its long
journeyings by land and sea. Our old house had remained faithful. A
fire roaring up the chimney made it home.
We went to Westbury's, however, for the holidays. Westbury with the
years had become a prosperous contractor, for Brook Ridge was no longer
an abandoned land, but a place of new and beautiful homes. Westbury's
prosperity, however, had not made him proudnot too proud to offer us
old-time Christmas hospitality at his glowing fireside.
Was it the spirit of our garden?
Summer found us back in the old house, almost as if we had not left
it. Almost, but not quite. Somehow the world had changed. Perhaps it
was just the warperhaps it was because we were all olderour girls
beginning to have lives of their ownbecause the family unit was
getting ready to dissolve.
The dissolving began at last one sunny June day when the Pride left
us. It was the young man whom I had noticed around the house a year or
two before who took her away. She seemed to prefer to go with him than
to stay with us, I could not exactly make out why, but I did not think
it best, or safe, to argue the question, and I drove them to the train
Then the Hope and the Joy got the notion of spending their summers
in one of those camps that are so much the fashion now, and at last
there came a day that the Hope, who such a little while ago was running
care-free and happy-hearted in the sun, bade us good-by and sailed
awaysailed back across the ocean to France, an enlisted soldier, to
do her part where the world's bravest were battling for the world's
For us, indeed, the world had changed; we had little need any more
for the old house that on a July day twelve years before we had found
and made our home. It had seen our brief generation pass; it was ready
for the next. And when, one day, there came a young man and his bride,
just starting on the way we had come, and seeing the beauty of the
spot, just as we had seen it, wanted to own and enjoy it, just as we
had owned and enjoyed it, we yielded it to them gladly, even if
sorrowfully, for one must give up everything, some time or other, and
it is an economy of regret to give to the right person, at the right
And now just here I want to record a curious thing. Earlier in these
pages I have spoken of planting one year some white canterbury-bells
that did not grow, or at least, so far as we could discover, did not
bloom. In six seasons we never saw any sign of them, yet on the day we
were leaving our house, closing it for the last time, I found on the
spot where they had been planted, in full bloom, a stalk of white
canterbury-bells! Had the seed germinated after all those years? Was it
the spirit of our garden, sprung up there to tell us good-by? Who can
Our abandoned farm is no longer ours. We, too, have abandoned it.
Only the years that we spent there remain to usa tender and beautiful
memory. Whatever there was of shadow or misfortune has long since
passed, by. I see now all our summers there bathed in mellow sunlight,
all the autumns aglow with red and gold, all the winters clean with
sparkling snow, all the springs green with breaking buds and white with
bloom. If those seasons were not flawless at the time, they have become
so, now when they are added to the past.
And I know that they were indeed happy, for they make my heart ache
remembering, and it is happiness, and not misery, that makes the heart
achewhen it is gone.