Richard Le Gallienne
Online Distributed Proofreading Team
BY RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
I The Epitaph of Summer
II At Evening I Came to the Wood
III "Trespassers will be ..."
IV Salad and Moonshine
V The Green Friend
VI In the Wake of Summer
VII Maps and Farewells
VIII The American Bluebird and Its Song
IX Dutch Hollow
X Where They Sing from Morning Till Night
XII Orchards and a Line from Virgil
XIII Fellow Wayfarers
XIV The Old Lady of the Walnuts and Others
XV The Man at Dansville
XVI In which we Catch up with Summer
XVII Containing Valuable Statistics
XVIII A Dithyrambus of Buttermilk
XIX A Growl about American Country Hotels
XX Onions, Pigs and Hickory-nuts
XXI October Roses and a Young Girl's Face
XXII Concerning the Popular Taste in Scenery and some Happy People
XXIII The Susquehanna
XXIV And Unexpectedly the Last
THE EPITAPH OF SUMMER
As I started out from the farm with a basket of potatoes, for our supper
in the shack half a mile up the hillside, where we had made our Summer
camp, my eye fell on a notice affixed to a gate-post, and, as I read it,
my heart sank--sank as the sun was sinking yonder with wistful glory
behind the purple ridge. I tore the paper from the gate-post and put it
in my pocket with a sigh.
"It is true, then," I said to myself. "We have got to admit it. I must
show this to Colin."
Then I continued my way across the empty, close-gleaned corn-field,
across the railway track, and, plunging into the orchard on the other
side, where here and there among the trees the torrents of apples were
being already caught in boxes by the thrifty husbandman, began to breast
the hill intersected with thickly wooded watercourses.
High up somewhere amid the cloud of beeches and buttonwood trees, our log
cabin lay hid, in a gully made by the little stream that filled our pails
with a silver trickle over a staircase of shelving rock, and up there
Colin was already busy with his skilled French cookery, preparing our
evening meal. The woods still made a pompous show of leaves, but I knew
it to be a hollow sham, a mask of foliage soon to be stripped off by
equinoctial fury, a precarious stage-setting, ready to be blown down at
the first gusts from the north. A forlorn bird here and there made a thin
piping, as it flitted homelessly amid the bleached long grasses, and the
frail silk of the milkweed pods came floating along ghostlike on the
Yes! It was true. Summer was beginning to pack up, the great
stage-carpenter was about to change the scene, and the great theatre was
full of echoes and sighs and sounds of farewell. Of course, we had known
it for some time, but had not had the heart to admit it to each other,
could not find courage to say that one more golden Summer was at an end.
But the paper I had torn from the roadside left us no further shred of
illusion. There was an authoritative announcement there was no blinking,
a notice to quit there was no gain-saying.
As I came to the crest of the hill, and in sight of the shack, shining
with early lamp-light deep down among the trees of the gully, I could see
Colin innocently at work on a salad, and hear him humming to himself his
eternal "_Vive le Capitaine_."
It was too pathetic. I believe the tears came to my eyes.
"Colin," I said, as I at length arrived and set down my basket of
potatoes, "read this."
He took the paper from my hand and read:
"_Sun-up Baseball Club. September_ 19, 1908. _Last Match of the Season_"
He knew what I meant.
"Yes!" he said. "It is the epitaph of Summer."
AT EVENING I CAME TO THE WOOD
My solitude had been kindly lent to me for the Summer by a friend, the
prophet-proprietor of a certain famous Well of Truth some four miles
away, whither souls flocked from all parts of America to drink of the
living waters. I had been feeling town-worn and world-weary, and my
friend had written me saying: "At Elim are twelve wells and seventy
palm-trees," and so to Elim I had betaken myself. After a brief sojourn
there, drinking of the waters, and building up on the strong diet of the
sage's living words, he had given me the key to some green woods and
streams of his, and bade me take them for my hermitage. I had a great
making-up to arrange with Nature, and I half wondered how she would
receive me after all this long time. But when did that mother ever turn
her face from her child, however truant from her care? It had been with a
beating heart that I had passed up the hillside on an evening in early
June, and approached the hushed green temple, wherein I was to take
Summer sanctuary from a wicked world.
But if, as I hope, the reader has no objection to an occasional interlude
of verse in all this prose, I will copy for him here the poem I wrote
next morning--it being always easier to tell the strict truth in poetry
rather than in prose:
_At evening I came to the wood, and threw myself on the breast
Of the great green mother, weeping, and the arms of a thousand trees
Waved and rustled in welcome, and murmured: "Rest--rest--rest!
The leaves, thy brothers, shall heal thee; thy sisters, the flowers,
At length I stayed from my weeping, and lifted my face from the grass;
The moon was walking the wood with feet of mysterious pearl,
And the great trees held their breath, trance-like, watching her pass,
And a bird called out from the shadows, with voice as sweet as a girl.
And then, in the holy silence, to the great green mother I prayed:
"Take me again to thy bosom, thy son who so close to thee,
Aforetime, filial clung, then into the city strayed--
The painted face of the town, the wine and the harlotry.
"Bathe me in lustral dawns, and the morning star and the dew.
Make pure my heart as a bird and innocent as a flower,
Make sweet my thoughts as the meadow-mint
--O make me all anew,
And in the strength of beech and oak gird up my will with power.
"I have wandered far, O my mother, but here I return at the last,
Never again to stray in pilgrimage wanton and wild;
A broken heart and a contrite here at thy feet I cast,
O take me back to thy bosom ..." And the mother answered, "Child!"_
It was a wonderful reconciliation, a wonderful home-coming, and how I
luxuriated in the great green forgiveness! Yes! the giant maples had
forgiven me, and the multitudinous beeches had taken me to their arms.
The flowers and I were friends again, the grass was my brother, and the
shy nymph-like stream, dropping silver vowels into the silence, was my
"TRESPASSERS WILL BE..."
For those who value it, there is no form of property that inspires a
sense of ownership so jealous as solitude. Rob my orchard if you will,
but beware how you despoil me of my silence. The average noisy person can
have no conception what a brutal form of trespass his coarsely cheerful
voice may be in the exquisite spiritual hush of the woods, or what
shattering discomfort his irrelevant presence in the landscape.
One day, to my horror, a picnic ruthlessly invaded my sanctuary. With a
roar of Boeotian hilarity, it tore up the hillside as if it were a
storming party, and half a day the sacred woods were vocal with silly
catcalls and snatches of profane song. I locked up my hermitage, and,
taking my stick, sought refuge in flight, like the other woodland
creatures; only coming back at evening with cautious step and peering
glance, half afraid lest it should still be there. No! It was gone, but
its voices seemed to have left gaping wounds across the violated air, and
the trees to wear a look of desecration. But presently the moon arose and
washed the solitude clean again, and the wounds of silence were healed in
the still night.
Next morning I amused myself by writing the following notice, which
I nailed up on a great elm-tree standing guard at the beginning of
_Speaking above a whisper in these woods
is forbidden by law_.
This notice seems to have had its effect, for from this time on no more
hands of marauders invaded my peace. But I had one other case of
trespass, of which it is now time to speak.
Some short distance from the shack was a clearing in the woods, a
thriving wilderness of bramble-bushes, poke-berries, myrtle-berries,
mandrakes, milkweed, mullein, daisies and what not--a paradise of every
sauntering vine and splendid, saucy weed. In the centre stood a
sycamore-tree, beneath which it was my custom to smoke a morning pipe and
revolve my profound after-breakfast thoughts.
Judge, then, of my indignant shock, one morning, at finding a stranger
calmly occupying my place. I stood for a moment rooted to the spot, in
the shadow of the encircling woods, and he had not yet seen me. As I
stood, pondering on the best way of dealing with the intruder, a sudden
revulsion of kindness stole over me. For here indeed was a very different
figure from what, in my first shock of surprise, I had expected to see.
No common intruder this. In fact, who could have dreamed of coming upon
so incongruous an apparition as this in an American woodland? How on
earth did this picturesque waif from the Quartier Latin come to stray so
far away from the Boul' Miche! For the little boyish figure of a man that
sat sketching in my place was the Frenchiest-looking Frenchman you ever
saw--with his dark, smoke-dried skin, his long, straight, blue-black
hair, his fine, rather ferocious brown eyes, his long, delicate French
nose, his bristling black moustache and short, sting-shaped imperial. He
wore on his head a soft white felt hat, somewhat of the shape affected by
circus clowns, and too small for him. His coat was of green velveteen
corduroy and he wore knickerbockers of an eloquent plaid.
He was intently absorbed in sketching a prosperous group of weeds, a
crazy quilt of wildly jostling colour, that had grown up around the decay
of a fallen tree, and made a fine blazon of contrast against the massed
foliage in the background. There was no mistake how the stranger loved
this patch of coloured weeds. Here was a man whose whole soul was
evidently--colour. There was a look in his face as if he could just eat
those oranges and purples, and soft greens; and there was a sort of
passionate assurance in the way in which he handled his brushes, and
delicately plunged them here and there in his colour-box, that spoke a
master. So intent was he upon his work that, when I came up behind him,
he seemed unaware of my presence; though his oblivion was actually the
conscious indifference of a landscape painter, accustomed to the ambling
cow and the awe-struck peasant looking over his shoulder as he worked.
"Great bunch of weeds," he said presently, without looking up, and still
painting, drawing the while at a quaint pipe about an inch long.
"O, you are not the Boul' Miche, after all," I exclaimed in
"Aren't I, though?" he said at last, looking up in interested surprise.
"Ever at--?" mentioning the name of a well-known cafe, one of the many
rally-points of the Quartier.
"I should say," I answered.
And thereupon we both plunged into delighted reminiscence of that city
which, as none other, makes immediate friends of all her lovers. For a
while the woods faded away, and in that tangled clearing rose the towers
of Notre Dame, and the Seine glittered on under its great bridges, and
again the world smelled of absinthe, and picturesque madmen gesticulated
in clouds of tobacco smoke, and propounded fantastic philosophies amid
the rattle of dominoes--and afar off in the street a voice was crying
"_Haricots verts_!" My new friend's talk had the pathos of spiritual
exile, for, as French in blood as a man could be, born in Bordeaux of
Provencal parentage, he had lived most of his life in America. The
decoration of a rich man's house in the neighbourhood had brought him
thus into my solitude, and, that work completed, he would return to his
home in New York.
Meanwhile the morning was going by as we talked, and, putting up his
sketch-box, he accepted my invitation to join me at lunch.
Such was the manner of my meeting, in the guise of a trespasser, with the
dear friend to whom I had brought the decisive news of the death of
Summer, as he was innocently making a salad, _in antiquam silvam_, on
that sad September evening.
SALAD AND MOONSHINE
"Do you remember that first salad you made us, Colin?" I said, as we sat
over our coffee, and Colin was filling his little pipe. "A daring work of
art, a fantastic _tour de force_, of apples, and lettuce, and wild
strawberries, and I don't know what else."
"I believe I mixed in some May-apples, too. It was a great stunt ...
well, no more May-apples and strawberries this year," he finished, with a
sigh, and we both sat silently smoking, thinking over the good Summer
that was gone.
After our first meeting, Colin had dropped in to see me again from time
to time, and when his work at the great house was finished, I had asked
him to come and share my solitude. A veritable child of Nature himself,
he fitted into my quiet days as silently as a squirrel. So much of his
life had been passed out-of-doors with trees and skies, long dream-like
days all alone sketching in solitary places, that he seemed as much a
part of the woods as though he were a faun, and the lore of the elements,
and all natural things--bugs and birds, all wildwood creatures--had
passed into him with unconscious absorption. A sort of boyish
unconsciousness, indeed, was the keynote and charm of his nature. A less
sophisticated creature never followed the mystic calling of art.
Fortunately for me, he was not one of those painters who understand and
expound their own work. On the contrary, he was a perfect child about it,
and painted for no more mysterious reason than that his eye delighted in
beautiful natural effects, and that he loved to play with paint and
brushes. Though he was undoubtedly sensitive somewhere to the mystic side
of Nature, her Wordsworthian "intimations," you would hardly have guessed
it from his talk. "A bully bit of colour," would be his craftsmanlike way
of describing a twilight full of sibylline suggestiveness to the literary
mind. But, strangely enough, when he brought you his sketch, all your
"sibylline suggestiveness" was there, which of course means, after all,
that painting was his way of seeing and saying it.
The moon rose as we smoked on, and began to lattice with silver the
darkness of the glen, and flood the hillside with misty radiance. Colin
made for his sketch-box.
"I must make good use of this moon," he said, "before we go."
"And so must I," said I, laughing as we both went out into the night, he
one way and I another, to make our different uses of the moon.
An hour later Colin turned in with a panel that seemed made of moonlight.
"How on earth did you do it?" I said. "It is as though you had drawn up
the moon in a silver bucket from the bottom of a fairy well."
"No, no," he protested; "I know better. But where is your _clair
"Nothing doing," I answered.
"Well, then, say those lines you wrote a week or two ago instead."
"'Berries already,' do you mean?"
Here are the lines he meant:
_Berries already, September soon,--
The shortening day and ike early moon;
The year is busy with next year's flowers
The seeds are ready for next year' showers;
Through a thousand tossing trees there swells
The sigh of the Summer's sad farewells.
Too soon those leaves in the sunset sky
Low down on the wintry ground will lie,
And grim November and December
Leave naught of Summer to remember--
Saving some flower in a book put by,
Secure from the soft effacing snow,
Though all the rest of the Summer go._
THE GREEN FRIEND
Though we had received such unmistakable notice to quit, we still
lingered on in our solitude, after the manner of defiant tenants whom
nothing short of corporal ejection can dislodge. The North wind began to
roar in the tree-tops and shake the doors and windows of the shack, like
an angry landlord, but we paid no heed to him. Yet, all the time, both of
us, in our several ways, were saying our farewells, and packing up our
memories for departure. There was an old elm-tree which Colin had taken
for his Summer god, and which he was never tired of painting. He must
make the one perfect study of that before we pulled up stakes. So, each
day, after our morning adoration of the sun, we would separate about our
different ways and business.
The woods were already beginning to wear a wistful, dejected look. There
was a feeling of departure everywhere, a sense that the year's
excitements were over. The procession had gone by, and there was an
empty, purposeless air of waiting-about upon things, a sort of despairing
longing for something else to happen--and a sure sense that nothing more
could happen till next year. Every event in the floral calendar had taken
place with immemorial punctuality and tragic rapidity. All the
full-blooded flowers of Summer had long since come and gone, with their
magic faces and their souls of perfume. Gone were the banners of blossom
from the great trees. The locust and the chestnut, those spendthrifts of
the woods, that went the pace so gorgeously in June, are now sober-coated
enough, and growing even threadbare. All the hum and the honey and
breathless bosom-beat of things is over. The birds sing no more, but only
chatter about time-tables. The bee keeps to his hive, and the bewildered
butterfly, in tattered ball-dress, wonders what has become of his flowery
partners. The great cricket factory has shut down. Not a wheel is heard
whirring. The squirrel has lost his playful air, and has an anxious
manner, as though there were no time to waste before stocking his
granary. Everywhere berries have taken the place of buds, and bearded
grasses the place of flowers. Even the goldenrod has fallen to rust, and
the stars of the aster are already tarnished. Only along the edges of the
wood the dry little paper immortelles spread long shrouds and wreaths in
Suddenly you feel lonely in the woods, which had seemed so companionable
all Summer. What is it--_Who_ is it--that has gone? Though quite alone,
there was some one with you all Summer, an invisible being filling the
woods with his presence, and always at your side, or somewhere near by.
But to-day, through all the green halls and chambers of the wood, you
seek him in vain. You call, but there is no answer. You wait, but he does
not come. He has gone. The wood is an empty palace. The prince went away
secretly in the night. The wood is a deserted temple. The god has betaken
himself to some secret abode. Everywhere you come upon chill, abandoned
altars, littered debris of Summer sacrifices. Maybe he is dead, and
perchance, deeper in the wood, you may come upon his marble form in a
winding-sheet of drifting leaves.
Not a god, maybe, you have pictured him, not a prince, but surely as a
friend--the mysterious Green Friend of the green silence and the golden
hush of Summer noons. The mysterious Green Friend of the woods! So
strangely by our side all Summer, so strangely gone away. It is in vain
to await him under our morning sycamore, nor under the great maples shall
we find him walking, nor amid the alder thickets discover him, nor yet in
the little ravine beneath the pines. No! he has surely gone away, and his
great house seems empty without him, desolate, filled with lamentation,
all its doors and windows open to the Winter snows.
But the Green Friend had left me a message. I found it at the roots of
some violets. "_I shall be back again next year_" he said.
IN THE WAKE OF SUMMER
Yes, it was time to be going, and the thought was much on both our minds.
We had as yet, however, made no plans, had not indeed discussed any; but
one afternoon, late in September, driven indoors by a sudden squall of
rain, I came to Colin with an idea. The night before we had had the first
real storm of the season.
"Ah! This will do their business," Colin had said, referring to the
trees, as we heard the wind and rain tearing and splashing through the
pitch-dark woods. "It will be a different world in the morning."
And indeed it was. Cruel was the work of dismantling that had gone on
during the night. The roof of the wood had fallen in in a score of
places, letting in the sky through unfamiliar windows; and the distant
prospect showed through the torn tapestry of the trees with a startling
sense of disclosure. The dishevelled world wore the distressed look of a
nymph caught _deshabillee._ The expression, "the naked woods," occurred
to one with almost a sense of impropriety. At least there was a cynical
indecorum in this violent disrobing of the landscape.
"Colin," I said, coming to him with my idea. "We've got to go, of
course, but I've been thinking--don't you hate the idea of being hurled
along in a train, and suddenly shot into the city again, like a package
through a tube?"
"Hate it? Don't ask me," said Colin.
"If only it could be more gradual," I went on. "Suppose, for instance,
instead of taking the train, we should walk it!"
"Walk to New York?" said Colin, with a surprised whistle.
"Yes! Why not?"
"Something of a walk, old man."
"All the better. We shall be all the longer getting there. But, listen.
To go by train would be almost too sudden a shock. I don't believe we
could stand it. To be here to-day, breathing this God's fresh air, living
the lives of natural men in a natural world, and to-morrow--Broadway, the
horrible crowds, the hustle, the dirt, the smells, the uproar."
For answer Colin watched the clean rain fleeting through the trees, and
"But now if we walked, we would, so to say, let ourselves down lightly,
inure ourselves by gradual approach to the thought of life once more with
our fellows. Besides, we should be walking in the wake of the Summer. She
has only moved a little East as yet. We might catch her up on her way to
New York, and thus move with the moving season, keeping in step with the
Zodiac. Then, at last, ... how much more fitting our entry into New York,
not by way of some sordid and clangorous depot, but through the spacious
corridors of the Highlands and the lordly gates of the Hudson!"
When I had thus attained my crescendo, Colin rose impressively, and
embraced me with true French effusion.
"Old man," he said, "that's just great. It's an inspiration from on high.
It makes me feel better already. Gee! but that's bully."
French as was his blood, it will be observed that Colin's expletives were
thoroughly American. Of course, he should have said _sacre mille cochons_
or _nom de Dieu de nom de Dieu_; but, though in appearance, so to say, an
embodied "_sacre"_ he seemed to find the American vernacular sufficiently
"Is it a go, then?" said I.
"It's a go," said Colin, once more in American.
And we shook on it.
MAPS AND FAREWELLS
It was wonderful what a change our new plan wrought in our spirits.
Our melancholy was immediately dispersed, and its place taken by active
anticipations of our journey. The North wind in the trees, instead of
blustering dismissal, sounded to our ears like the fluttering of the
blue-peter at the masthead of our voyage. Strange heart of man! A day
back we were in tears at the thought of going. Now we are all smiles to
think of it, all impatience to be gone. We quote Whitman a dozen times
in the hour, and it is all "afoot and light-hearted" with us, and "the
But there were some farewells to make to people as well as to trees.
There were friends at Elim to bid adieu, and also there were maps to be
consulted, and knapsacks to be packed--exhilarating preparations.
Our friends looked at us, when we had unfolded our project, with a
mixture of surprise and pity. "Amiable lunatics" was the first comment of
their countenances, and--"There never was any telling what the artistic
temperament would do next!" Had we announced an air-ship voyage to the
moon, they would have regarded us as comparatively reasonable, but to
walk--_to walk_--some four or five hundred miles in America, of all
countries, a country of palace cars and, lightning limited expresses, not
to mention homicidal touring automobiles, seemed like--what shall I
say?--well, as though one should start out for New Zealand in a row-boat,
or make the trip to St. Petersburg in a sedan-chair.
But there were others--especially the women--who understood, felt as we
did, and longed to go with us. I have never met a woman yet whose face
did not light up at the thought of a walking tour, and in her heart long
to don Rosalind clothes and set forth in search of adventures. We thus
had the advantage, in planning our route, of several prettily coiffed
heads bending over our maps and guide-books with us.
"Four hundred and thirty miles," said one of these Rosalinds, whose
pretty head was full of pictures of romantic European travel. "Think what
one could do with four hundred and thirty miles in Europe. Let us try,
for the fun of it."
And turning to a map of Europe, and measuring out four hundred and thirty
miles by scale on a slip of paper, she tried it up and down the map from
point to point. "Look at funny little England!" she said. "Why, you will
practically be walking from one end of England to the other. See," and
she fitted her scale to the map, "it would bring you easily from
Portsmouth to Aberdeen.
"And now let us try France. Why, see again--you will be walking from
Calais to Marseilles--think of it! walking through France, all vineyards
and beautiful names. Now Italy--see! you will be walking from Florence to
Mount Etna--Florence, Rome, Naples, Palermo."
And so in imagination our fair friend sketched out fanciful pilgrimages
for us. "You could walk from Gibraltar to the Pyrenees," she went on.
"You could walk from Venice to Berlin; from Brussels to Copenhagen; you
could walk from Munich to Budapest; you could walk right across Turkey,
from Constantinople to the Adriatic Sea. And Greece--see! you could walk
from Sparta to the Danube. To think of the romantic use you could make
of your four-hundred-odd-miles, and how different it sounds--Buffalo to
And again she repeated, luxuriating in the romantic sound of the
words: "Constantinople to the Adriatic! Sparta to the Danube!--Buffalo
to New York!"
There was not wanting to the party the whole-souled,
my-country-'tis-of-thee American, who somewhat resented these European
comparisons, and declared that America was good enough for her, clearly
intimating that a certain lack of patriotism, even a certain immorality,
attached to the admiration of foreign countries. She also told us
somewhat severely that the same stars, if not better, shone over America
as over any other country, and that American scenery was the finest in
the world--not to speak of the American climate.
To all of which we bowed our heads in silence--but the frivolous,
European-minded Rosalind who had got us into this trouble retorted with a
grave face: "Wouldn't you just love, dear Miss----, to walk from
Hackensack to Omaha?"
Another voice was kind enough to explain for our encouragement that the
traveller found in a place exactly what he brought there, and that
romance was a personal gift, all in the personal point of view.
"A sort of cosmetic you apply to the face of Nature," footnoted our
Still another reminded us that "to travel hopefully is a better thing
than to arrive," and still another strongly advised us to carry
So, taking with us our maps and much good advice, we bade farewell to our
friends, and walked back to our camp under the stars--the same stars that
were shining over Constantinople.
The next day, when all our preparations were complete, the shack swept
and garnished, and our knapsacks bulging in readiness for the road, Colin
took his brushes, and in a few minutes had decorated one of the walls
with an Autumn sunset--a sort of memorial tablet to our Summer, he
"Can't you think up a verse to put underneath?" he asked.
Then underneath he lettered:
_Two lovers of the Sun and of the Moon,
Lovers of Tree and Grass and Bug and Bird,
Spent here the Summer days, then all too soon
Upon the homeward track reluctant fared.
Sun-up, October 1, 1908._
Some apples remained over from our larder. We carefully laid them outside
for the squirrels; then, slinging our knapsacks, we took a last look
round the little place, and locked the door.
Our way lay up the hill, across the pasture and through the beeches,
toward the sky-line.
We stood still a moment, gazing at the well-loved landscape. Then we
turned and breasted the hill.
"_Allons_!" cried Colin.
"_Allons_!" I answered. "_Allons_! To New York!"
THE AMERICAN BLUEBIRD AND ITS SONG
I wish I could convey the singular feeling of freedom and adventure that
possessed us as Colin and I grasped our sticks and struck up the green
hill--for New York. It was a feeling of exhilaration and romantic
expectancy, blent with an absurd sense of our being entirely on our own
resources, vagrants shifting for ourselves, independent of civilization;
which, of course, the actual circumstances in no way warranted. A
delightful boyish illusion of entering on untrodden paths and facing
unknown dangers thrilled through us.
"Well, we're off!" we said simultaneously, smiling interrogatively at
"Yes! we're in for it."
So men start out manfully for the North Pole.
Our little enterprise gave us an imaginative realization of the
solidarity, the interdependence, of the world; and we saw, as in a
vision, its four corners knit together by a vast network of paths
connecting one with the other; footpaths, byways, cart-tracks,
bride-paths, lovers' lanes, highroads, all sensitively linked in one vast
nervous system of human communication. This field whose green sod we were
treading connected with another field, that with another, and that again
with another--all the way to New York--all the way to Cape Horn! No break
anywhere. All we had to do was to go on putting one foot before the
other, and we could arrive anywhere. So the worn old phrase, "All roads
lead to Rome," lit up with a new meaning, the meaning that had originally
made it. Yes! the loneliest of lovers' lanes, all silence and wild
flowers, was on the way to the Metropolitan Opera House; or, vice versa,
the Flat Iron Building was on the way to the depths of the forest.
"Suppose we stop here, Colin," I said, pointing to a solitary,
forgotten-looking little farmhouse, surrounded by giant wind-worn poplars
that looked older than America, "and ask the way to Versailles?"
"And I shouldn't be surprised," answered Colin, "if we struck some bright
little American schoolgirl who could tell us."
Although we as yet knew every foot of the ground we were treading, it
already began to wear an unfamiliar houseless and homeless look, an air
of foreign travel, and though the shack was but a few yards behind us, it
seemed already miles away, wrapped in lonely distance, wistfully
forsaken. Everything we looked at seemed to have gained a new importance
and significance; every tree and bush seemed to say, "So many miles to
New York," and we unconsciously looked at and remarked on the most
trifling objects with the eye of explorers, and took as minute an
interest in the usual bird and wayside weed as though we were engaged in
some "flora and fauna" survey of untrodden regions.
"That's a bluebird," said Colin, as a faint pee-weeing came with a thin
melancholy note from a telegraph wire. And we both listened attentively,
with a learned air, as though making a mental note for some
ornithological society in New York. "Bluebird seen in Erie County,
October 1, 1908!" So might Sir John Mandeville have noted the occurrence
of birds of paradise in the domains of Prester John.
"That's a silo," said Colin, pointing to a cylindrical tower at the end
of a group of barns, from which came the sound of an engine surrounded by
a group of men, occupied in feeding it with trusses of corn from a
high-piled wagon. "They are laying in fodder for the Winter." Interesting
In the surrounding fields the pumpkins, globes of golden orange, lay
scattered among the wintry-looking corn-stalks.
"Bully subject for a picture!" said Colin.
Before we had gone very far, we did stop at a cottage standing at a
puzzling corner of cross-roads, and asked the way, not to Versailles,
indeed, but to--Dutch Hollow. We were answered by a good-humoured German
voice belonging to an old dame, who seemed glad to have the lonely
afternoon silence broken by human speech; and we were then, as often
afterward, reminded that we were not so far away from Europe, after all;
but that, indeed, in no small degree the American continent was the map
of Europe bodily transported across the sea. For the present our way lay
Dutch Hollow! The name told its own story, and it had appealed to our
imaginations as we had come upon it on the map.
We had thought we should like to see how it looked written in trees and
rocks and human habitations on the page of the landscape. And I may say
that it was such fanciful considerations as this, rather than any more
business-like manner of travel, that frequently determined the route of
our essentially sentimental journey. If our way admitted of a choice of
direction, we usually decided by the sound of the name of village or
town. Thus the sound of "Wales Center" had taken us, we were told, a mile
or two out of our way; but what of that? We were not walking for a
record, nor were we road-surveying, or following the automobile route to
New York. In fact, we had deliberately avoided the gasoline route,
choosing to be led by more rustic odours; and thus our wayward wayfaring
cannot be offered in any sense as a guide for pedestrians who may come
after us. Any one following our guidance would be as liable to arrive at
the moon as at New York. In fact, we not infrequently inquired our way of
a bird, or some friendly little dog that would come out to bark a
companionable good day to us from a wayside porch.
As a matter of fact, I had inquired the way of the bluebird mentioned a
little while back, and it may be of interest--to ornithological
societies--to transcribe his answer:
_The way of dreams--the bluebird sang--
Is never hard to find
So soon as you have really left
The grown-up world behind;
So soon as you have come to see
That what the others call
Realities, for such as you,
Are never real at all;
So soon as you have ceased to care
What others say or do,
And understand that they are they,
And you--thank God--are you.
Then is your foot upon the path,
Your journey well begun,
And safe the road for you to tread,
Moonlight or morning sun.
Pence of this world you shall not take,
Yea! no provision heed;
A wild-rose gathered in the wood
Will buy you all you need.
Hungry, the birds shall bring you food,
The bees their honey bring;
And, thirsty, you the crystal drink
Of an immortal spring.
For sleep, behold how deep and soft
With moss the earth is spread,
And all the trees of all the world
Shall curtain round your bed.
Enchanted journey! that begins
Nowhere, and nowhere ends,
Seeking an ever-changing goal,
Nowhither winds and wends.
For destination yonder flower,
For business yonder bird;
Aught better worth the travelling to
I never saw or heard.
O long dream-travel of the soul!
First the green earth to tread--
And still yon other starry track
To travel when you're dead_.
The day had opened with a restless picturesque morning of gusty sunshine
and rolling clouds. There was something rich and stormy and ominous in
the air, and a soft rainy sense of solemn impending change, at once
brilliant and mournful; a curious sense of intermingled death and birth,
as of withered leaves and dreaming seeds being blown about together on
their errands of decay and resurrection by the same breath of the unseen
creative spirit. Incidentally it meant a rain-storm by evening, and its
mysterious presage had prompted Colin to the furnishing of our knapsacks
with water-proof cloaks, which, as the afternoon wore on, seemed more and
more a wise provision. But the rain still held off, contenting itself
with threatening phantasmagoria of cloud, moulding and massing like
visible thunder in our wake. It seemed leisurely certain, however, of
catching us before nightfall; and, sure enough, as the light began to
thicken, and we stood admiring its mountainous magnificence--vast billows
of plum-coloured gloom, hanging like doomsday over a stretch of haunted
orchard--the great drops began to patter down.
Surely the sky is the greatest of all melodramatists. Nothing short of
the cataclysmal end of the world could have provided drama to match the
stupendous stage-setting of that stormy sky. All doom and destiny and
wrath of avenging deities and days of judgment seemed concentrated in
that frown of gigantic darkness. Beneath it the landscape seemed to grow
livid as a corpse, and terror to fill with trembling the very trees and
grasses. Oedipus and Orestes and King Lear rolled into one could hardly
have accounted for that angry sky. Such a sky it must have been that
carried doom to the cities of the plain. And, after all, it was only
Colin and I innocently making haste to Dutch Hollow!
That Teutonic spot seemed hopelessly far away as the rain began to drive
down and the horizon to open here and there in lurid slashings of stormy
sunset; and when the road, which for some time had been one long descent,
suddenly confronted us with a rough, perpendicular lane, overgrown with
bushes, that seemed more like a cart-track to the stars than a sensible
thoroughfare, we realized, with a certain indignant self-pity, that we
were walking in real earnest, out in the night and the storm, far from
"Nature cannot be so absurd," said I, "as to expect us to climb such a
road on such an evening! She must surely have placed a comfortable inn in
such a place as this, with ruddy windows of welcome, and a roaring fire
and a hissing roast." But, alas! our eyes scanned the streaming copses in
vain--nothing in sight but trees, rain and a solitary saw-mill, where an
old man on a ladder assured us in a broken singsong, like the
Scandinavian of the Middle West, that indeed Nature did mean us to climb
that hill, and that by that road only could we reach the Promised Land of
supper and bed.
And the rain fell and the wind blew, and Colin and I trudged on through
the murk and the mire, I silently recalling and commenting on certain
passages in certain modern writers in praise of walking in the rain. At
last the hill came to an end--we learned afterward that it was a good
mile high--and we stumbled out on to some upland wilderness, unlit by
star or window. Then we found ourselves descending again, and at last dim
shapes of clustered houses began to appear, and the white phantom of a
church. We could rather feel than see the houses, for the night was so
dark, and, though here was evidently a village, there was no sign of a
light anywhere, not so much as a bright keyhole; nothing but hushed,
shuttered shapes of deeper black in the general darkness. So English
villages must have looked, muffled up in darkness, at the sound of the
"Surely, they can't all be in bed by seven o'clock?" I said.
"There doesn't seem much to stay up for," laughed Colin.
At length we suspected, rather than saw, a gleam of light at the rear of
one of the shrouded shapes we took for houses, and, stumbling toward it,
we heard cheerful voices, German voices; and, knocking at a back door,
received a friendly summons to enter. Then, out of the night that covered
us, suddenly sprang a kitchen full of light and a family at supper, kind
German folk, the old people, the younger married couple, and the
grandchildren, and a big dog vociferously taking care of them. A lighted
glimpse, a few hearty words of direction, and we were out in the night
again; for though, indeed, this was Dutch Hollow, its simple microcosm
did not include an hotel. For that we must walk on another half-mile or
so. O those country half-miles! So on we went again, and soon a lighted
stoop flashed on our right. At last! I mounted the steps of a veranda,
and, before knocking, looked in at the window. Then I didn't knock, but
softly called Colin, who was waiting in the road, and together we looked
in. At a table in the centre of a barely furnished, brightly-lit room, an
old woman and a young man were kneeling in prayer. Colin and I stood a
moment looking at them, and then softly took the road again.
But the inn, or rather the "hotel," did come at last. Alas! however, for
dreams of ruddy welcome--rubicund host, and capon turning on the spit. In
spite of German accents, we were walking in America, after all. A
shabbily-lit glass door admitted us into a dreary saloon bar, where a
hard-featured, gruff-mannered young countryman, after serving beer to two
farm-labourers, admitted with apparent reluctance that beds were to be
had by such as had "the price," but that, as to supper, well! supper was
"over"--supper-time was six-thirty; it was now seven-thirty. The young
man seemed no little surprised, even indignant, that any one should be
ignorant of the fact that supper-time at Sheldon Center was half-past
six; and this, by the way, was a surprise we encountered more than once
on our journey. Supper-time in the American road-house is an hour
severely observed, and you disregard it at the peril of your empty
stomach, for no larders seem so hermetically sealed as the larders of
American country hotels after the appointed hour, and no favour so
impossible to grant as even a ham sandwich, if you should be so much a
stranger to local ordinances as to expect it after the striking of the
hour. Indeed, you are looked on with suspicion for asking, as something
of a tramp or dangerous character. Not to know that supper-time at
Sheldon Center was half-past six seemed to argue a sinister disregard of
the usages of civilization.
As we ruefully contemplated a supperless couch, a comely young woman, who
had been looking us over from a room in the rear of the bar, came
smilingly forward and volunteered to do the best she could for us. She
was evidently the rough fellow's wife, goddess of the kitchen, and final
court of appeal. What a difference a good-natured, good-looking woman
makes in a place! 'Tis a glimpse into the obvious, but there are
occasions on which such commonplaces shine with a blessed radiance, and
the moment when our attractive hostess flowered out upon us from her
forbidding background was one of them. With her on our side, we forgot
our fears, and, with an assured air, asked her husband to show us to our
rooms. Lamp in hand, he led us up staircases and along corridors--for the
hotel was quite a barracks--thawing out into conversation on the way. The
place, he explained, was a little out of order, owing to "the ball"--an
event he referred to as a matter of national knowledge, and being, we
understood, the annual ball of harvesting. The fact of the lamps not
burning properly, and there being no water or towels in our rooms, was
due, he explained, to this disorganizing festival; as also the
circumstance of our doors having no knobs to them. "The young fellows at
the ball did carry on so," he said, chuckling with reminiscence of that
orgiastic occasion. The Sheldon Center gallants were evidently the very
devil; and those vanished door-knobs provoked pictures in our minds of
Lupercalian revels, which, alas! we had come too late to share.
We should have found anything good that our hostess cared to set before
us--so potent a charm is amiability--and I am sure no man need wish for a
better supper than the fried eggs and fried potatoes which copiously
awaited us down-stairs. As Colin washed his down with coffee, like a true
Franco-American, and I washed down mine with English breakfast tea, we
pulled out our pipes and smiled contentment at each other.
"Shall we have a chapter of the wisdom of Paragot before bed?" I said,
and, going to our small, carefully selected knapsack library, I found the
gay-hearted fantastical book we had promised to read together on our
wayfaring; and so the day drew to a good end.
Over the head of my bed hung a highly-coloured reproduction of Leonardo's
"Last Supper," and stuck in its frame was a leaf of blessed palm--by
which tokens I realized that my slumbers were to be under the wing of the
ancient Mother. As I closed my eyes, the musical chime of a great bell,
high up somewhere in the outer night, fell in benediction upon the
darkness. So I fell asleep in Europe, after all.
WHERE THEY SING FROM MORNING TILL NIGHT
I awoke to the same silvery salutation, and the sound of country boots
echoing across farm-yard cobble-stones. A lantern flashing in and out
among barns lit up my ceiling for a moment, a rough country voice hailed
another rough country voice somewhere outside, and the day slowly coughed
and sneezed itself awake in the six-o'clock grayness. I heard Colin
moving in the next room, and presently we were down-stairs, alertly
hungry. Our hostess, with morning smile, asked if we would mind waiting
breakfast for "the boarders." Meanwhile, we stepped out into the
unfolding day, and the village that had been a mystery to us in the
darkness was revealed; a handful of farmhouses on the brow of a
solitary-looking upland, and, looming over all, a great cathedral-like
church that seemed to have been transported bodily from France. Stepping
out to say good-morning to some young pigs that were sociably grunting in
a neighbouring sty, we beheld the vast landscape of our preceding day
stretched out beneath us, mistily emerging into the widening sunrise.
With pride our eyes traced the steep white road we had so arduously
travelled, and, for remembrance, Colin made a swift sketch of Dutch
Hollow huddled down there in the valley, with its white church steeple
catching the morning sun. And, by this, "the boarders" had assembled, and
we found ourselves at breakfast in a cheery company of three workmen, who
were as bright and full of fun as boys out for a holiday. They were
presently joined by a fourth, a hearty, middle-aged man, who, as he sat
down, greeted us with:
"I feel just like singing this morning."
"Good for you!" said one of us. "That's the way to begin the day." His
good nature was magnetic.
"Yes," he laughed, "we sing in Sheldon from morning till night."
"Sheldon's evidently a good place to know," I said. "I will make a note
of that for New Yorkers."
So, reader, sometimes when the world seems all wrong, and life a very
doubtful speculation, you may care to know of a place where the days go
so blithely that men actually sing from morning till night! Sheldon
Center is that place. You can find it on any map, and I can testify that
the news is true.
And the men that thus sang from morning till night--what was the trade
they worked and sang at?
We gathered from a few dropped words that they were engaged on some work
over at the church--masonry, no doubt--and, as they left the
breakfast-table, in a laughing knot, to begin the day's work, they
suggested our giving a look in at them on our way. This we promised to
do, for a merrier, better-hearted lot of fellows it would be hard to
find. To meet them was to feel a warm glow of human comradeship. Healthy,
normal, happy fellows, enjoying their work as men should, and taking life
as it came with sane, unconscious gusto; it was a tonic encounter to be
in their company.
They were grave-diggers, engaged in renovating the village churchyard!
Yes! and, said our hostess, they were making it like a garden! It had
been long neglected and become disgracefully overgrown with weeds and
bushes, but now they were trimming it up in fine style. They were
cemetery experts from Batavia way, and the job was to cost sixteen
hundred dollars. But it was worth it, for indeed they were making it look
like a garden!
Presently we stepped over to the churchyard. We should not have been
human if we had not advanced with a Hamlet-Horatio air: "Has this fellow
no feeling of his business, that he sings at grave-making?" We found our
four friends in a space of the churchyard from which the tombstones had
been temporarily removed, engaged, not with mattock and death's head, but
with spirit-level and measuring-cord. They were levelling a stretch of
newly-turned and smoothed ground, and they pointed with pride to the
portion of the work already accomplished, serried rows of spick-and-span
headstones, all "plumb," as they explained, and freshly scraped--not a
sign of caressing moss or a tendril of vine to be seen. A neat job, if
there ever was one. We should have seen the yard before they had taken it
in hand! There wasn't a stone that was straight, and the weeds and the
brambles--well, look at it now. We looked. Could anything be more refined
or in more perfect taste? The churchyard was as smooth and correct as a
newly-barbered head, not a hair out of place. We looked and kept our
thoughts to ourselves, but we wondered if the dead were really as
grateful as they should be for this drastic house-cleaning? Did they
appreciate this mathematical uniformity, this spruce and spotless
residential air of their numbered rectangular rest; or was not the old
way nearer to their desire, with soft mosses tucking them in from the
garish sun, and Spring winds spreading coverlets of wild flowers above
But--who knows?--perhaps the dead prefer to be up-to-date, and to follow
the fashion in funeral furnishings; and surely such expert necropolitans
as our four friends ought to know. No doubt the Sheldon Center dead would
have the same tastes as the Sheldon Center living; for, after all, we
forget, in our idealization of them, that the dead, like the living, are
a vast _bourgeoisie_. Yes! it is a depressing thought--the _bourgeoisie_
of the dead!
As we stood talking, the young priest of the parish joined our group. He
was a German, from Duesseldorf, and his worn face lit up when he found
that Colin had been at Duesseldorf and could talk with him about it. As
he stood with us there on that bleak upland, he seemed a pathetic,
symbolic figure, lonely standard-bearer of the spirit in one of the
dreary colonies of that indomitable church that carries her mystic
sacraments even into the waste places and borders of the world. The
romance of Rome was far away beyond that horizon on which he turned his
wistful look; here was its hard work, its daily prose. But he turned
proudly to the great pile that loomed over us. We had commented on its
size in so remote a parish.
"Yes, I am proud of our people," he said. "It is greatly to their
credit." One could not help silently wondering that the spiritual needs
of this handful of lonely houses should demand so ambitious a structure.
But the symbols of the soul can never be too impressive. Then we said
good-bye to our friends, and struck out into the morning sunshine,
leaving the village of song behind.
Yes! in Sheldon Center they sing from morning till night--at
It was a spacious morning of windswept sunshine, with a wintry bite in
the keen air. Meadow-larks and song-sparrows kept up a faint warbling
about us, but the crickets, which yesterday had here and there made a
thin music, as of straggling bands of survivors of the Summer, were
numbed into silence again. Once or twice we caught sight of the dainty
snipe in the meadows, and high over the woods a bird-hawk floated, as by
some invisible anchorage, in the sky. It was an austere landscape, grave
with elm and ash and pine. For a space, a field of buckwheat standing in
ricks struck a smudged negroid note, but there was warmth in the apple
orchards which clustered about the scattered houses, with piles of golden
pumpkins and red apples under the trees. And is there any form of
piled-up wealth, bins of specie at the bank, or mountains of precious
stones, rubies and sapphires and carbuncles, as we picture them in the
subterranean treasuries of kings, that thrills the imagination with so
dream-like a sense of uncounted riches, untold gold, as such natural
bullion of the earth; pyramids of apples lighting up dark orchards, great
plums lying in heaps of careless purple, corridors hung with fabulous
bunches of grapes, or billowy mounds of yellow grain--the treasuries of
Pomona and Vertumnus? Such treasuries, in the markets of this world, are
worth only a modest so-much-a-bushel, yet I think I should actually feel
myself richer with a barrel of apples than with a barrel of money.
From a corn-growing country, we were evidently passing into a country
whose beautiful business was apples. Orchards began more or less to line
the road, and wagons with those same apple-barrels became a feature of
Another of its features was the number of old ruined farmhouses we came
on, standing side by side with the new, more ambitious homesteads. We
seldom came on a prosperous-looking house but a few yards away was to be
seen its aged and abandoned parent, smothered up with bushes, roof fallen
in, timbers ready to collapse, the deserted hearth choked with debris and
overgrown with weeds--the very picture of a haunted house. Here had been
the original home, always small, seldom more than four rooms, and when
things had begun to prosper, a more spacious, and often, to our eyes, a
less attractive, structure had been built, and the old home left to the
bats and owls, with a complete abandonment that seemed to us--sentimental
travellers as we were--as cynical as it was curiously wasteful.
Putting sentiment out of the question, we had to leave unexplained why
the American farmer should thus allow so much good building material to
go to waste. Besides, as we also noted much farm machinery rusting
unhoused in the grass, we wondered why he did not make use of these old
buildings for storage purposes. But the American farmer has puzzled wiser
heads than ours, so we gave it up and turned our attention once more to
our own fanciful business, one highly useful branch of which was the
observation of the names on the tin letter-boxes thrusting themselves out
at intervals along the road.
The history of American settlement could, I suppose, be read in those
wayside letter-boxes, in such names, for instance, as "Theo. Leveque" and
"Paul Fugle," which, like wind-blown exotics from other lands, we found
within a few yards of each other. One name, that of "Silvernail," we
decided could only lawfully belong to a princess in a fairy tale. Such
childishness as this, I may say, is of the essence of a walking trip, in
which, from moment to moment, you take quite infantile interest in all
manner of idle observation and quite useless lore. That is a part of the
game you are playing, and the main thing is that you are out in the open
air, on the open road, with a simple heart and a romantic appetite.
Here is a little picture of a wayfaring day which I made while Colin was
sketching one of those ruined farms:
_Apples along the highway strewn,
And morning opening all her doors;
The cawing rook, the distant train,
The valley with its misty floors;
The hillside hung with woods and dreams,
Soft gleams of gossamer and dew;
From cockcrow to the rising moon
The rainbowed road for me and you.
Along the highroad all the day
The wagons filled with apples go,
And golden pumpkins and ripe corn,
And all the ruddy overflow
From Autumn's apron, as she goes
About her orchards and her fields,
And gathers into stack and barn
The treasure that the Summer yield.
A singing heart, a laughing road,
With salutations all the way,--
The gossip dog, the hidden bird,
The pig that grunts a gruff good-day;
The apple-ladder in the trees,
A friendly voice amid the boughs,
The farmer driving home his team,
The ducks, the geese, the uddered cows;
The silver babble of the creek,
The willow-whisper--the day's end,
With murmur of the village street,
A called good-night, an unseen friend_.
ORCHARDS AND A LINE FROM VIRGIL
Orchards! We were walking to New York--through orchards. And we might
have gone by train! A country of orchards and gold-dust sunshine falling
through the quaint tapestry trees, falling dreamily on heaped-up gold,
and the grave backs of little pigs joyously at large in the apple
twilight. A drowsy, murmuring spell was on the land, the spell of fabled
orchards, and of old enchanted gardens--
_In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon_--
the country of King Alcinous. At intervals, as we walked on through the
cider-dreamy afternoon, thinking apples, smelling apples, munching
apples, there came a mellow sound like soft thunder through the trees. It
was the thunder of apples being poured into barrels, and, as in a sleep,
the fragrant wagons passed and repassed along the road--"the slow-moving
wagons of our lady of Eleusis."
That line of Virgil came to me, as lines will sometimes come in fortunate
moments, with the satisfaction of perfect fitness to the hour and the
mood, gathering into one sacred, tear-filled phrase the deep sense that
had been possessing me, as we passed the husbandmen busy with the various
harvest, of the long antiquity of these haunted industries of the earth.
So long, so long, has man pursued these ancient tasks; so long ago was
he urging the plowshare through the furrow, so long ago the sower went
forth to sow; so long ago have there been barns and byres, granaries and
threshing-floors, mills and vineyards; so long has there been milking of
cows, and herding of sheep and swine. Can one see a field of wheat
gathered into sheaves without thinking of the dream of Joseph, or be
around a farm at lambing time without smiling to recall the cunning of
Jacob? Already were all these things weary and old and romantic when
Virgil wrote and admonished the husbandman of times and seasons, of
plows and harrows, of mattocks and hurdles, and the mystical winnowing
fan of Iacchus.
To the meditative, romantic mind, the farmer and plowman, standing thus
in the foreground of the infinite perspective of time, take on a sacred
significance, as of traditional ministers of the ancient mysteries of
Perhaps it is one's involuntary sense of this haunted antiquity that
gives its peculiar expressiveness to the solemn, almost religious quiet
of barns and stables, the, so to say, prehistoric hush of brooding,
sun-steeped rickyards; and gives, too, a homely, sacerdotal look to the
implements and vessels of the farm. A churn or a cheese-press gives one
the same deep, uncanny thrill of the terrible vista of time as Stonehenge
itself; and from such implements, too, there seems to breathe a sigh--a
sigh of the long travail and unbearable pathos of the race of men.
You will thus see the satisfaction, in moods of such meditation, of
carrying in one's knapsack a line from Virgil--"the slow-moving wagons of
our Lady of Eleusis"--and I congratulated myself on my forethought in
having included in our itinerant library a copy of Mr. Mackail's
beautiful translation of "The Georgics." Walt Whitman, talking to one of
his friends about his habit of carrying a book with him on his nature
rambles, said that nine times out of ten he would never open the book,
but that the tenth time he would need it very badly. So I needed "The
Georgics" very badly that afternoon, and the hour would have lost much of
its perfection had I not been able to take the book from my knapsack, and
corroborate my mood, while Colin was sketching an old barn, by reading
aloud from its consecrated pages:
"_I can repeat to thee many a counsel of them of old, if thou shrink not
back nor weary to learn of lowly cares. Above all must the
threshing-floor be levelled with the ponderous roller, and wrought by
hand and cemented with clinging potter's clay, that it may not gather
weeds nor crack in the reign of dust, and be playground withal for
manifold destroyers. Often the tiny mouse builds his house and makes his
granaries underground, or the eyeless mole scoops his cell; and in chinks
is found the toad, and all the swarming vermin that are bred in earth;
and the weevil, and the ant that fears a destitute old age, plunder the
great pile of spelt_."
Perhaps some reader had been disposed hastily to say: "What did you want
with hooks out of doors? Was not Nature enough?" No one who loves both
books and Nature would ask that question, or need to have explained why a
knapsack library is a necessary adjunct of a walking-tour.
For Nature and books react so intimately on each other, and, far more
than one realizes without thought, our enjoyment of Nature is a creation
of literature. For example, can any one sensitive to such considerations
deny that the meadows of the world are greener for the Twenty-third
Psalm, or the starry sky the gainer in our imagination by the solemn
cadences of the book of Job? All our experiences, new and personal as
they may seem to us, owe incalculably their depth and thrill to the
ancestral sentiment in our blood, and joy and sorrow are for us what they
are, no little because so many old, far-away generations of men and women
have joyed and sorrowed in the same way before us. Literature but
represents that concentrated sentiment, and satisfies through expression
our human need for some sympathetic participation with us in our human
That a long-dead poet walking in the Spring was moved as I am by the
unfolding leaf and the returning bird imparts an added significance to my
own feelings; and that some wise and beautiful old book knew and said it
all long ago, makes my life seem all the more mysteriously romantic for
me to-day. Besides, books are not only such good companions for what they
say, but for what they are. As with any other friend, you may go a whole
day with them, and not have a word to say to each other, yet be happily
conscious of a perfect companionship. The book we know and love--and, of
course, one would never risk taking a book we didn't know for a
companion--has long since become a symbol for us, a symbol of certain
moods and ways of feeling, a key to certain kingdoms of the spirit, of
which it is often sufficient just to hold the key in our hands. So, a
single flower in the hand is a key to Summer, a floating perfume the key
to the hidden gardens of remembrance. The wrong book in the hand, whether
opened or not, is as distracting a presence as an irrelevant person; and
therefore it was with great care that I chose my knapsack library. It
consisted of these nine books:
Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales.
Locke's "Beloved Vagabond."
Selections from R.L.S.
Pater's "Marius the Epicurean."
Alfred de Musset's "Premieres Poesies."
Baedeker's "United States."
Road Map of New York State.
And, though my knapsack already weighed eighteen pounds, I could not
resist the call of a cheap edition of Wordsworth in a drug-store at
Warsaw, a charming little town embosomed among hills and orchards, where
we arrived, dreamy with country air, at the end of the day.
With the morn our way still lay among apples and honey, hives and
orchards; a land of prosperous farms, sumptuous rolling downs, rich
woodland, sheep, more pigs, more apple-barrels and velvety sunshine. The
old ruined houses had ceased, and the country had taken on a more
generous, broad-shouldered, deep-bosomed aspect. Nature was preparing for
one of her big Promised Land effects. We were coming to the valley of the
Genesee River. We made a comparison of two kinds of prosperity in the
look of a landscape. Some villages and farms suggest smugness in their
prosperity. They have a model-farm, business-like, well-regulated,
up-to-date, company-financed air, suggesting such modern agricultural
terms as "ensilage," "irrigation" and "fertilizer." Other villages and
farms, while just as well-kept and well-to-do, have, so to say, a
something romantic about their prosperity, a bounteous, ruddy, golden-age
look about them, as though Nature herself had been the farmer and they
had ruddied and ripened out of her own unconscious abundance--the
difference between a row of modern box beehives and the old
thatched-cottage kind. The countryside of the Genesee valley has the
romantic prosperous look. Its farms and villages look like farms and
villages in picture-books, and the country folk we met seemed happy and
gay and kind, such as those one reads of in William Morris's romances of
the golden age. As from time to time we exchanged greetings with them, we
were struck with their comely health and blithe ways--particularly with
their fine teeth, as they laughed us the time of day, or stopped their
wagons to gossip a moment with the two outlandish packmen--the very teeth
one would expect in an apple-country. Perhaps they came of so much sweet
commerce with apples!
The possessor of a particularly fine display hailed us as he drove by in
an empty wagon, at the tail of which trailed a long orchard ladder, and
asked us if we would care for a lift. Now it happened that his
suggestion came like a voice from heaven for poor Colin, one of whose
shoes had been casting a gloom over our spirits for several miles. So we
accepted with alacrity, and, really, riding felt quite good for a
change! Our benefactor was a bronzed, handsome young fellow, just
through Cornell, he told us, and proud of his brave college, as all
Cornell men are. He had chosen apple-farming for his career, and,
naturally, seemed quite happy about it; lived on his farm near by with
his mother and sister, and was at the moment out on the quest of four
apple-packers for his harvesting, these experts being at a premium at
this season. We rattled along gaily in the broad afternoon sunshine,
exchanging various human information, from apple-packing to New York
theatres, after the manner of the companionable soul of man, and I hope
he liked us as well as we liked him.
One piece of information was of particular interest to Colin, the
whereabouts of one "Billy the Cobbler," a character of the neighbourhood,
who would fix Colin's shoe for him, and, incidentally, if he was in the
mood, give us a musical and dramatic entertainment into the bargain.
At length our ways parted, and, with cheery good-byes and good wishes,
our young friend went rattling along, leaving in our hearts a warm
feeling of the brotherhood of man--sometimes. He had let us down close by
the "High Banks," the rumour of which had been in our ears for some
miles, and presently the great effect Nature had been preparing burst on
our gaze with a startling surprise. The peaceful pastoral country was
suddenly cloven in twain by a gigantic chasm, the Genesee River, dizzy
depths below, picturesquely flowing between Grand Canon rock effects,
shaggy woods clothing the precipitous limestone, and small forests
growing far down in the broad bed of the river, with here and there
checkerboard spaces of cultivated land, gleaming, smooth and green, amid
all the spectacular savageness--soft, cozy spots of verdure nestling
dreamily in the hollow of the giant rocky hand. The road ran close to the
edge of the chasm, and the sublimity was with us, laying its hush upon
us, for the rest of the afternoon. Appropriate to her Jove-like mood,
Nature had planted stern thickets of oak-trees along the rocky edge, and
"the acorns of our lord of Chaonia" crunched beneath our feet as we
After a while, sure enough we came upon "Billy the Cobbler," seated at
his bench in a little shop at the beginning of a straggle of houses,
alone, save for his cat, at the sleepy end of afternoon. We had
understood that he had been crippled in some cruel accident of machinery,
and was hampered in the use of his legs. But, unless in a certain
philosophic sweetness on his big, happy face, there was no sign of the
cripple about his burly, broad-shouldered personality. He was evidently
meant to be a giant, and was what one might call the bo'sun type, bluff,
big-voiced and merry, with a boyish laugh, large, twinkling eyes, a
trifle wistful, and the fine teeth of the district.
"Well, boys," said he, looking up from his work with a smile, "and what
can I do for you? Walking, eh?--to New York!" and he whistled, as every
one did when they learned our mysterious business.
Then, taking Colin's shoe in his hand, he commenced to pound upon that
instrument of torture, talking gaily the while. Presently he asked, "Do
you care about music?" and on our eagerly agreeing that we did, "All
right," he said, "we'll close the shop for a few minutes and have some."
Then, moving around on his seat, like some heroic half-figure bust on its
pedestal, he rummaged among the litter of leather and tools at his side,
and produced a guitar from its baize bag, also a mouth organ, which by
some ingenious wire arrangement he fastened around his neck, so that he
might press his lips upon it, leaving his hands free for the guitar.
Then, "Ready?" said he, and, applying himself simultaneously to the
guitar and the harmonica, off he started with a quite electrical gusto
into a spirited fandango that made the little shop dance and rattle with
merriment. You would have said that a whole orchestra was there, such a
volume and variety of musical sound did Billy contrive to evoke from his
"There!" he said, with a humorous chuckle, pushing the harmonica aside
from his mouth, "what do you think of that for an overture?" He had
completely hypnotized us with his infectious high spirits, and we were
able to applaud him sincerely, for this lonely cobbler of shoes was
evidently a natural well of music, and was, besides, no little of an
"Now I'll give you an imitation of grand opera," he said; and then he
launched into the drollest burlesque of a fashionable tenor and a
prima-donna, as clever as could be. He was evidently a born mime as well
as a musician, and presently delighted us with some farmyard imitations,
and one particularly quaint impersonation, "an old lady singing with
false teeth," sent us into fits of laughter.
"You ought to go into vaudeville," we both said spontaneously, with that
vicious modern instinct to put private gifts to professional uses, and
then Billy, with shy pride, admitted that he did do a little now and
again in a professional way at harvest balls (we thought of Sheldon
Center) and the like.
"Perhaps you might like one of my professional letter-heads," he said,
handing us one apiece. I think probably the reader would like one, too.
You must imagine it in the original, with fancy displayed professional
type, regular "artiste" style, and a portrait of Billy, with his two
instruments, in one corner. And "see thou mock him not," gentle reader!
_King of Them All
THE KING OF ALL IMITATORS
Producing in Rapid Succession
A GRAND REPERTOIRE
of Imitations and Impersonations
Minstrel Bands, Circus Bands, Killing
Pigs, Cat Greeting Her Kitten, Barn-Yard
of Hens and Roosters, Opera
Singers with Guitar, Whistling with
Guitar, Old Lady Singing with False
Teeth, Cow and Calf, Harmonica with
the Guitar, Arab Song, Trombone Solo
with the Guitar.
Yes! "See thou mock him not," gentle reader, for Billy is no subject for
any man's condescension. We were in his company scarcely an hour, but we
went away with a great feeling of respect and tenderness for him, and we
hope some day to drop in on him again, and hear his music and his quaint,
"All alone in the world, Billy?"
A shade of sadness passed over his face, and was gone again, as he
smilingly answered, stroking the cat that purred and rubbed herself
against his shoulder.
"Just puss and me and the guitar," he said. "The happiest of families.
Ah! Music's a great thing of a lonely evening."
And a sense of the brave loneliness of Billy's days swept over me as we
shook his strong hand, and he gave us a cheery godspeed on our way. I am
convinced that Billy could earn quite a salary on the vaudeville stage;
but--no! he is better where he is, sitting there at his bench, with his
black cat and his guitar and his singing, manly soul.
The twilight was rapidly thickening as we left Billy, once more bent over
his work, and, the fear of "supper-time" in our hearts, we pushed on at
extra speed toward our night's lodging at Mount Morris. The oak-trees
gloomed denser on our right as we plowed along a villainously sandy road.
Labourers homing from the day's work greeted us now and again in the
dimness, and presently one of these, plodding up behind us, broke forth
"Ben-a carry pack-a lik-a dat-a--forty-two months--army--ol-a country,"
said the voice out of the darkness.
It was an Italian labourer on his way to supper, interested in our
"You're an Italian?"
"Me come from Pal-aer-mo."
The little chap was evidently in a talkative mood, and I nudged Colin to
do the honours of the conversation.
"Pal-aer-mo? Indeed!" said Colin. "Fine city, I guess."
"Been-a Pal-aer-mo?" asked the Italian eagerly. Colin couldn't say
that he had.
"Great city, Pal-aer-mo," continued our friend, "great theatre--cost
sixteen million dollars."
There is nothing like a walking-trip for gathering information of
The Italian went on to explain that this country was a poor substitute
for the "ol-a country."
"This country--rough country. In this country me do rough-a work," he
explained apologetically; "in Pal-aer-mo do polit-a work."
And he accentuated his statement by a vicious side spit upon the
It transpired that the "polit-a work" on which he had been engaged in
Pal-aer-mo had been waiting in a restaurant.
And so the poor soul chattered on, touching, not unintelligently, in his
absurd English, on American politics, capital and labour, the rich and
the poor. The hard lot of the poor man in America, and--"Pal-aer-mo,"
made the recurring burden of his talk, through which, a pathetic
undertone, came to us a sense of the native poetry of his race.
Did he ever expect to return to Palermo? we asked him as we parted. "Ah!
many a night me dream of Pal-aer-mo," he called back, as, striking into a
by-path, he disappeared in the darkness.
And then we came to a great iron bridge, sternly silhouetted in the
sunset. On either side rose cliffs of darkness, and beneath, like sheets
of cold moonlight, flowed the Genesee, a Dantesque effect of jet and
silver, Stygian in its intensity and indescribably mournful. The banks of
Acheron can not be more wildly _funebre_, and it was companionable to
hear Colin's voice mimicking out of the darkness:
"In this country me do rough-a work. In Pal-aer-mo do polit-a work!"
"Poor chap!" I said, after a pause, thinking of our friend from
Pal-aer-mo. "Do you know Hafiz, Colin?" I continued. "There is an ode of
his that came back to me as our poor Italian was talking. I think I will
say it to you. It is just the time and place for it."
"Do," said Colin. And then I repeated:
_"At sunset, when the eyes of exiles fill,
And distance makes a desert of the heart,
And all the lonely world grows lonelier still,
I with the other exiles go apart,
And offer up the stranger's evening prayer.
My body shakes with weeping as I pray,
Thinking on all I love that are not there,
So desolately absent far away--
My Love and Friend, and my own land and home.
O aching emptiness of evening skies!
O foolish heart, what tempted thee to roam
So far away from the Beloved's eyes!
To the Beloved's country I belong--
I am a stranger in this foreign place;
Strange are its streets, and strange to me its tongue;
Strange to the stranger each familiar face.
'Tis not my city! Take me by the hand,
Divine protector of the lonely ones,
And lead me back to the Beloved's land--
Back to my friends and my companions
O wind that blows from Shiraz, bring to me
A little dust from my Beloved's street;
Send Hafiz something, love, that comes from thee,
Touched by thy hand, or trodden by thy feet."_
"My! but that makes one feel lonesome," was Colin's comment. "I wonder if
there will be any mail from the folk at Mount Morris."
THE OLD LADY OF THE WALNUTS AND OTHERS
What manner of men we were and what our business was, thus wandering
along the highroads with packs on our backs and stout sticks in our
hands, was matter for no little speculation, and even suspicion, to the
rural mind. We did not seem to fit in with any familiar classification of
vagabond. We might be peddlers, or we might be "hoboes," but there was a
disquieting uncertainty about us, and we felt it necessary occasionally
to make reassuring explanations. Once or twice we found no opportunity to
do this, as, for instance, one sinister, darksome evening, we stood in
hesitation at a puzzling cross-road--near Dansville, I think--and awaited
the coming of an approaching buggy from which to ask the way. It was
driven by two ladies, who, on our making a signal of distress to them,
immediately whipped up with evident alarm, and disappeared in a flash.
Dear things! they evidently anticipated a hold-up, and no doubt arrived
home with a breathless tale of two suspicious-looking characters hanging
about the neighbourhood.
On another occasion, we had been seated awhile under a walnut tree
growing near a farm, and scattering its fruitage half across the
highroad. Colin had been anointing his suffering foot, and, as I told
him, looked strongly reminiscent of a certain famous corn-cure
advertisement. Meanwhile, I had been once more quoting Virgil: "The
walnut in the woodland attires herself in wealth of blossom and bends
with scented boughs," when there approached with slow step an old,
white-haired lady, at once gentle and severe in appearance, accompanied
by a younger lady. When they had arrived in front of us, the old lady in
measured tones of sorrow rather than anger, said: "We rather needed those
walnuts--" Dear soul! she evidently thought that we had been filling
our knapsacks with her nuts, and it took some little astonished
expostulation on our part to convince her that we hadn't. This affront
seemed to sink no little into Colin's sensitive Latin soul--and they were
public enough walnuts, anyway, scattered, as they were, across the public
road! But Colin couldn't get over it for some time, and I suspected that
he was the more sensitive from his recently--owing, doubtless, to his
distinguished Gallic appearance--having been profanely greeted by some
irreverent boys with the word "Spaghetti!" However, there was balm for
our wounded feelings a little farther along the road, when a
companionable old farmer greeted us with:
"Well, boys! out for a walk? It's easy seeing you're no tramps."
Colin's expression was a study in gratitude. The farmer was a fine,
soldierly old fellow, who told me that he was half English, too, on his
"But my mother," he added, "was a good blue-bellied Yankee."
We lured him on to using that delightfully quaint expression again before
we left him; and we also learned from him valuable information as to the
possibilities of lunch farther along the road, for we were in a lonely
district with no inns, and it was Sunday.
In regard to lunch, I suppose that in prosaically paying our way for bed
and board as we fared along we fell short of the Arcadian theory of
walking-tours in which the wayfarer, like a mendicant friar, takes toll
of lunch and dinner from the hospitable farmer of sentimental legend, and
sleeps for choice in barns, hayricks or hedgesides. Now, sleeping out of
doors in October, if you have ever tried it, is a very different thing
from sleeping out of doors in June, and as for rural hospitality--well,
if you are of a sensitive constitution you shrink from obtruding
yourself, an alien apparition, upon the embarrassed and embarrassing
rural domesticities. Besides, to be quite honest, rural table-talk,
except in Mr. Hardy's novels or pastoral poetry, is, to say the least,
lacking in variety. Indeed, if the truth must be told, the conversation
of country people, generally speaking, and an occasional, very
occasional, character or oddity apart, is undeniably dull, and I hope it
will not be imputed to me for hardness of heart that, after some
long-winded colloquy or endless reminiscence, sententious and trivial, I
have thought that Gray's famous line should really have been
written--"the long and tedious annals of the poor."
But my heart smites me with ingratitude toward some kindly memories as I
write that--memories of homely welcome, simple and touching and
dignified. Surely I am not writing so of the genial farmer on whom we
came one lunch hour as he was stripping corn in his yard.
"Missus," he called to the house a few yards away, "can you find any
lunch for two good-looking fellows here?"
The housewife came to the door, scanned us for a second, and replied in
the affirmative. As we sat down to table, our host bowed his head and
said a simple grace for the bacon and cabbage, pumpkin-pie, cheese and
tea we were about to receive; and the unexpected old-fashioned rite, too
seldom encountered nowadays, came on me with a fresh beauty and
impressiveness, which made me feel that its discontinuance is a real loss
of gracious ritual in our lives, and perhaps even more. Thus this simple
farmer's board seemed sensitively linked with the far-away beginnings of
time. Of all our religious symbolism, the country gods and the gods of
the hearth and the household seem actual, approachable presences, and the
saying of grace before meat was a beautiful, fitting reminder of that
mysterious, invisible care and sustenance of our lives, which no longer
find any recognition in our daily routine: _Above all, worship thou the
gods, and bring great Ceres her yearly offerings_.
Another such wayside meal and another old couple live touchingly in our
memories. We were still in the broad, sun-swept valley of the Genesee,
our road lying along the edge of the wide, reed-grown flats and
water-meadows, bounded on the north by rolling hills. On our left hand,
parallel with the road, ran a sort of willowed moat banked by a
grass-grown causeway, a continuous narrow mound, somewhat higher than the
surrounding country, and cut through here and there with grass-grown
gullies, the whole suggesting primeval earthworks and excavations. So the
old Roman roads run, grassy and haunted and choked with underbrush, in
the lonelier country districts of England. We were curious as to the
meaning of this causeway, and learned at length that here was all that
remained of the old Genesee Canal. Thirty years ago, this moat had
brimmed with water, and barges had plied their sleepy traffic between
Dansville and Rochester. But the old order had changed, and a day had
come when the dike had been cut through, the lazy water let out into the
surrounding flats, and the old waterway left to the willows and the
wild-flowers, the mink and the musk-rat. Only thirty years ago--yet
to-day Nature has so completely taken it all back to herself that the
hush of a long-vanished antiquity is upon it, and the turfy burial mound
of some Hengist and Horsa could not be more silent.
This old fosse seemed to strike the somewhat forgotten, out-of-the-world
note of the surrounding country. Picturesque to the eye, with bounteous
green prospects and smooth, smiling hills, it was not, we were told, as
prosperous as it looked. For some vague reason, the tides of agricultural
prosperity had ebbed from that spacious sunlit vale. A handsome old
trapper, who sat at his house door smoking his pipe and looking across
the green flats, set down the cause to the passing of the canal. Ah, yes!
it was possible for him, thirty years ago, to make the trip to Rochester
and back by the canal, and bring home a good ten dollars; but now--well,
every one in the valley was poor, except the man whose beehives we had
seen on the hillside half-a-mile back. He had made no less than a
thousand dollars out of his honey this last season. He was an old
bachelor, too, like himself. There were no less than five bachelors in
the valley--five old men without a woman to look after them.
"--or bother them," the old chap added humorously, relighting his pipe.
Mrs. Mulligan, half a mile farther up the valley, was the only woman
thereabouts; and she, by the way, would give us some lunch. We could say
that he had sent us.
So we left the old trapper to his pipe and his memories, and went in
search of Mrs. Mulligan. Presently a poor little house high up on the
hillside caught our eye, and we made toward it. As we were nearing the
door, a dog, evidently not liking our packs, sprang out at us, and from
down below in the marshy flats floated the voice of a man calling to us.
"Get out o' that!" hailed the voice. "There's nothing there for you."
Poor Colin! We were evidently taken for tramps once more.
However, undaunted by this reception, we reached the cottage door, and at
our knock appeared a very old, but evidently vigorous, woman.
"Is this Mrs. Mulligan's house?"
Her name on the lips of two strangers brought a surprised smile to her
face--a pleasant feeling of importance, even notoriety, no doubt--and she
speedily made us welcome, and, with many apologies, set before us the
cold remains of lunch which had been over an hour or two ago--cold
squash, pumpkin pie, cheese and milk. It was too bad we were late, for
they had had a chicken for dinner, and had sent the remains of it to a
friend down the road,--our trapper, no doubt,--and if the fire hadn't
gone out she would have made us some tea. Now, cold squash is not exactly
an inflammatory diet, but we liked the old lady so much, she had such a
pleasant, motherly way with her, and such an entertaining, wise and even
witty tongue, that we decided that cold squash, with her as hostess, was
better than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
Presently the door opened and the good man entered, he who had called to
us from the marsh--a tall, emaciated old man, piteously thin, and old,
and work-weary to look on, but with a keen, bright eye in his head, and
something of a proud air about his ancient figure. It seemed cruel to
think of his old bones having still to go on working, but our two old
people, who seemed pathetically fond of each other, were evidently very
poor, like the rest of the valley. The old man excused himself for his
salutation of us--but there were so many dangerous characters about, and
the old folk shook their heads and told of the daring operations of
mysterious robbers in the neighbourhood. In their estimation, the times
were generally unsafe, and lawless characters rife in the land. We looked
around at the pathetic poverty of the place--and wondered why they should
disquiet themselves. Poor souls! there was little left to rob them of,
save the fluttering remnants of their mortal breath. But, poor as they
were, they had their telephone,--a fact that struck us paradoxically in
many a poor cabin as we went along. Yes! had they a mind, they could
call up the White House, that instant, or the Waldorf-Astoria.
We spoke of our old trapper, and the old lady smiled.
"Those are his socks I've been darning for him," she said. So the cynical
old bachelor was taken care of by the good angel, woman, after all!
Trapping was about all there was to do now in the valley, she said. A
mink brought seven dollars, a musk-rat thirty cents. Our old bachelor had
made as much as eighteen dollars in two days--one day several years ago.
The old man had told us this himself. It was evidently quite a piece of
history in the valley, quite a local legend.
THE MAN AT DANSVILLE
At Dansville we fell in with a man after our own hearts. Fortunately for
himself and his friends, he is unaware of the simple fact that he is a
poet. We didn't tell him, either--though we longed to. He was standing
outside his prosperous-looking planing-mill, at about half-past eight of
a dreaming October morning. Inside, the saws were making that droning,
sweet-smelling, sawdust noise that made Colin think of "Adam Bede." The
willows and button-wood trees at the back of the workshops were still
smoking with sunlit mist, and the quiet, massive, pretty water looked
like a sleepy mirror, as it softly flooded along to its work on the big,
To our left a great hill, all huge and damp, glittering with gossamers,
and smelling of restless yellow leaves, shouldered the morning sky.
Then, turning away from talk with three or four workmen, standing at his
office door, he saluted the two apparitional figures, so oddly passing
along the muddy morning road.
"Out for a walk, boys?" he called.
He was a handsome man of about forty-three, with a romantic scar slashed
down his left cheek, a startling scar that must have meant hideous agony
to him, and yet, here in the end, had made his face beautiful, by the
presence in it of a spiritual conquest.
"How far are you walking?--you are not going so far as my little river
here, I'll bet--"
And then we understood that we were in the presence of romantic
conversation, and we listened with a great gladness.
"Yes! who would think that this little, quiet, mill-race is on her way to
the Gulf of Mexico!"
We looked at the little reeded river, so demure in her morning mists, so
discreet and hushed among her willows, and in our friend's eyes, and by
the magic of his fanciful tongue, we saw her tripping along to dangerous
conjunctions with resounding rock-bedded streams, adventurously taking
hands with swirling, impulsive floods, fragrant with water-flowers and
laden with old forests, and at length, through the strange, starlit
hills, sweeping out into some moonlit estuary of the all-enfolding sea.
"Aren't you glad we walked, Colin?" I said, a mile or two after. "You
are, of course, a great artist; but I don't remember you ever having a
thought quite so fine and romantic as that, do you?"
"How strange it must be," said Colin, after a while, "to have
beauty--beautiful thoughts, beautiful pictures--merely as a recreation;
not as one's business, I mean. And the world is full of people who have
no need to sell their beautiful thoughts!"
IN WHICH WE CATCH UP WITH SUMMER
Some eminent wayfarers--one peculiarly beloved--have discoursed on the
romantic charm of maps. But they have dwelt chiefly on the suggestiveness
of them before the journey: these unknown names of unknown places, in
types of mysteriously graduated importance--what do they stand for? These
mazy lines, some faint and wayward as a hair, and some straight and
decided as a steel track--whence and whither do they lead? I love the map
best when the journey is done--when I can pore on its lines as into the
lined face of some dear friend with whom I have travelled the years, and
say--here this happened, here that befell! This almost invisible dot is
made of magic rocks and is filled with the song of rapids; this
infinitesimal fraction of "Scale five miles to the inch" is a haunted
valley of purple pine-woods, and the moon rising, and the lonely cry of a
sheep that has lost her little one somewhere in the folds of the hills.
Here, where is no name, stands an old white church with a gilded cross,
among little white houses huddled together under a bluff. In yonder
garden the priest's cassock and trousers are hanging sacrilegiously on a
clothes-line, and you can just see a tiny graveyard away up on the
hillside almost hidden in the trees.
Even sacred vestments must be laundered by earthly laundresses, yet
somehow it gives one a shock to see sacred vestments out of the
sanctuary, profanely displayed on a clothes-line. It is as though one
should turn the sacred chalice into a tea-pot. A priest's trousers on a
clothes-line might well be the beginning of atheism. But I hope there
were no such fanciful deductive minds in that peaceful hamlet, and that
the faithful there can withstand even so profound a trial of faith. If it
had been my own creed that those vestments represented, I should have
been shaken, I confess; and, as it was, I felt a vague pain of
disillusionment, of an indignity done to the unseen; as, whatever the
creed, living or dead, may be, I always feel in those rooms often
affected by artistic people, furnished with the bric-a-brac of religions,
indeed not their own, but, none the less, once or even now, the living
religions of other people--rooms in which forgotten, or merely foreign,
deities are despitefully used for decoration, and a crucifix and a Buddha
and an African idol alike parts of the artistic furniture. But, no doubt,
it is to consider too curiously to consider so, and the good priest whose
cassock and trousers have occasioned these reflections would smilingly
prick my fancies, after the dialectic manner of his calling, and say that
his trousers on the clothes-line were but a humble reminder to the
faithful how near to the daily life of her children, how human at once as
well as divine, is Mother Church.
A cross, naturally, marks the spot where we saw those priest's trousers
on the line; but there are no crosses for a hundred places of memorable
moments of our journey; they must go without memorial even in this humble
record, and Colin and I must be content to keep wayside shrines for them
in our hearts.
How insignificant, on the map, looks the little stretch of some seventeen
miles from Dansville to Cohocton, yet I feel that one would need to erect
a cathedral to represent the perfect day of golden October wayfaring it
stands for, as on the weather-beaten map spread out before me on my
writing-table, as Colin and I so often spread it out under a tree by some
lonely roadside, I con the place-names that to us "bring a perfume in the
mention." It was a district of quaint, romantic-sounding names, and it
fully justified that fantastic method of choosing our route by the sound
of the names of places, which I confessed to the reader on an earlier
page: Wayland--Patchin's Mills--Blood's Depot--Cohocton. And to north and
south of our route were names such as Ossian, Stony Brook Glen, Loon
Lake, Rough & Ready, Doly's Corners, and Neil Creek. I confess that there
was a Perkinsville to go through--a beautiful spot, too, for which one
felt that sort of aesthetic pity one feels for a beautiful girl married
to a man, say, of the name of Podgers. Perkinsville! It was as though you
said--the beautiful Mrs. Podgers. But there was consolation in the sound
of Wayland, with its far call to Wayland's smithy and Walter Scott.
And--Cohocton! The name to me had a fine Cromwellian ring; and Blood's
Depot--what a truculent sound to that!--if you haven't forgotten the
plumed dare-devil cavalier who once made a dash to steal the king's
regalia from the Tower. Again--Loon Lake. Can you imagine two more
lonesome wailing words to make a picture with? But--Cohocton. How oddly
right my absurd instinct had been about that--and, shall we ever forget
the unearthly beauty of the evening which brought us at dark to the
quaint little operatic-looking village, deep and snug among the solemn,
The day had been one of those days that come perhaps only in
October--days of rich, languorous sunshine full of a mysterious
contentment, days when the heart says, "My cup runneth over," and happy
tears suddenly well to the eyes, as though from a deep overflowing sense
of the goodness of God. It was really Summer, with the fragrant mists of
Autumn in her hair. It had happened as we had hoped on starting out. We
had caught up with Summer on her way to New York, Summer all her golden
self, though garlanded with wreaths of Autumn, and about her the swinging
censers of burning weeds.
It was a wonderful valley we had caught her in, all rolling purple hills
softly folding and unfolding in one continuous causeway; a narrow valley,
and the hills were high and close and gentle, suggesting protection and
abundance and never-ending peace. Here and there the vivid green of
Winter wheat struck a note of Spring amid all the mauves and ochres of
It was a day on which you had no wish to talk,--you were too
happy,--wanted only to wander on and on as in a dream through the mellow
vale--one of those days in which the world seems too good to be true, a
day of which we feel, "This day can never come again." It was like
walking through the Twenty-third Psalm. And, as it closed about us, as we
came to our village at nightfall, and the sunshine, like a sinking lake
of gold, grew softer and softer behind the uplands, the solid world of
rock and tree, and stubble-field and clustered barns, seemed to be
growing pure thought--nothing seemed left of it but spirit; and the hills
had become as the luminous veil of some ineffable temple of the
mysterious dream of the world.
"Puvis de Chavannes!" said Colin to me in a whisper.
And later I tried to say better what I meant in this song:
_Strange, at this still enchanted hour,
How things in daylight hard and rough,
Iron and stone and cruel power,
Turn to such airy, starlit stuff!
Yon mountain, vast as Behemoth,
Seems but a veil of silver breath;
And soundless as a flittering moth,
And gentle as the face of death,
Stands this stern world of rock and tree
Lost in some hushed sidereal dream--
The only living thing a bird,
The only moving thing a stream.
And, strange to think, yon silent star,
So soft and safe amid the spheres--
Could we but see and hear so far--
Is made of thunder, too, and tears._
CONTAINING VALUABLE STATISTICS
And the morning was like unto the evening. Summer was still to be our
companion, and, as the evening of our coming to Cohocton had been the
most dreamlike of all the ends of our walking days--had, so to say, been
most evening-spiritual, so the morning of our Cohocton seemed most
morning-spiritual of all our mornings, most filled with strange hope and
thrill and glitter. We were afoot earlier than usual. The sun had hardly
risen, and the shining mists still wreathed the great hill which
overhangs the village. We were for calling it a mountain, but we were
told that it lacked fifty feet of being a mountain. You are not a
mountain till you grow to a thousand feet. Our mountain was only some
nine hundred and fifty feet. Therefore, it was only entitled to be called
a hill. I love information--don't you, dear reader?--though, to us
humble walking delegates of the ideal, it was all one. But I know for
certain that it was a lane of young maples which made our avenue of
light-hearted departure out of the village, though I cannot be sure of
the names of all the trees of the thick woods which clothed the hillside
beneath which our road lay, a huge endless hillside all dripping and
sparkling, and alive with little rills, facing a broad plain, a sea of
feathery grass almost unbearably beautiful with soft glittering dew and
opal mists, out of which rose spectral elms, like the shadows of gigantic
Shanghai roosters. All about was the sound of brooks musically rippling
from the hills, and there was a chaste chill in the air, as befitted the
time of day, for
_Maiden still the morn is, and strange she is, and secret,
Her cheeks are cold as cold sea-shells_.
It was all so beautiful that an old thought came back to me that I often
had as a child, when I used to be taken among mysterious mountains, for
Summer holidays: Do people really live in such beautiful places all the
year round? Do they live there just like ordinary people in towns, go
about ordinary businesses, live ordinary lives? It seemed to me then, as
it seems to me still, that such places should be kept sacred, like
fairyland, or should, at least, be the background of high and romantic
action, like the scenery in operas. To think of a valley so beautiful as
that through which we were walking being put to any other use than that
of beauty seems preposterous; but do you know what that beautiful valley
was doing, while Colin and I were thus poetizing it, adoring its
outlines and revelling in its tints? It was just quietly growing
potatoes. Yes! we had mostly passed through the apple country. This
garden of Eden, this Vale of Enna, was a great potato country. And we
learned, too, that its inhabitants were by no means so pleased with
beautiful Cohoctori Valley as we were. Here, we gathered, was another
beautiful ne'er-do-well of Nature, too occupied with her good looks to be
fit for much else than prinking herself out with wild-flowers, and
falling into graceful attitudes before her mirror--and there were mirrors
in plenty, many streams and willows, in Cohocton Valley; everywhere, for
us, the mysterious charm of running water. Once this idle daughter of
Ceres used to grow wheat, wheat "in great plenty," but now she could be
persuaded to grow nothing but potatoes.
All this and much more we learned from a friend who drew up beside us in
a buggy, as I was drinking from a gleaming thread of water gliding down a
mossed conduit of hollowed tree-trunks into an old cauldron sunk into the
hillside, and long since turned in ferns and lichen. Colin was seated
near by making a sketch, as I drank.
"I wouldn't drink too much of that water, lads," said the friendly voice
of the dapper little intelligent-faced man in the buggy.
What! not drink this fairy water?
"Why, you country folk are as afraid of fresh water as you are of fresh
air," I answered, laughing.
"All right, it's up to you--but it's been a dry Summer, you know."
And then the little man's attention was taken by Colin.
"Sketching?" he asked, and then he said, half shyly, "Would you mind my
taking a look how you do it?" and, climbing down from his buggy, he came
and looked over Colin's shoulder. "I used to try my hand at it a bit when
I was a boy, but those blamed trees always beat me ... don't bother you
much, seemingly though," he added, as he watched Colin's pencil with the
curiosity of a child.
"I've a little girl at home who does pretty well," he continued after a
moment, "but you've certainly got her skinned. I wish she could see you
His delight in a form of skill which has always been as magical to me as
it seemed to him, was charmingly boyish, and Colin turned over his
sketch-book, and showed him the notes he had made as we went along. One
of a stump fence particularly delighted him--those stump fences made out
of the roots of pine trees set side by side, which had been a feature of
the country some miles back, and which make such a weird impression on
the landscape, like rows of gigantic black antlers, or many-armed Hindoo
idols, or a horde of Zulus in fantastic war-gear drawn up in
battle-array, or the blackened stumps of giants' teeth--Colin and I tried
all those images and many more to express the curious weird effect of
coming upon them in the midst of a green and smiling landscape.
"Well, lads," he said, after we had talked awhile, "I shall have to be
going. But you've given me a great deal of pleasure. Can't I give you a
lift in exchange? I guess there is room for the three of us."
Now Colin and I, on the occasion of our ride with the apple-farmer,
awhile back, had held subtle casuistical debate on the legitimacy of men
ostensibly, not to say ostentatiously, on foot to New York picking up
chance rides in this way. The argument had gone into pursuit of very fine
distinctions, and almost rivalled in its casuistry the famous old Duns
Scotus--or was it Thomas Aquinas?--debate as to how many angels can dance
on the point of a needle. Once we had come to a deadlock as to the kind
of vehicle from which it was proper to accept such hospitality. Perhaps
it was a Puritan scrupulousness in my blood that had made me take the
stand that four-wheeled vehicles, such as wagons, hay-carts and the like,
being slow-moving, were permissible, but that buggies, or any form of
rapid two-wheeled vehicle, were not. To this Colin had retorted that, on
that basis, a tally-ho would be all right, or even an automobile. So the
argument had wrestled from side to side, and finally we had compromised.
We agreed that an occasional buggy would be within the vagabond law and
that any vehicle, other, of course, than an automobile, which was not
plying for hire--such as a trolley or a local train--might on occasion be
gratefully climbed into.
Thus it was that we hesitated a moment at the offer of our friend, a
hesitancy we amused him by explaining as, presently, conscience-clear, we
rattled with him through the hills. He was an interesting talker, a
human-hearted, keen-minded man, and he had many more topics as well as
potatoes. Besides, he was not in the potato business, but, as with our
former friend, his beautiful business was apples. Still, he talked very
entertainingly about potatoes; telling us, among other things, that, so
friendly was the soil toward that particular vegetable that it yielded as
much as a hundred to a hundred and fifty bushels to the acre, and that a
fair-sized potato farm thereabouts, properly handled, would pay for
itself in a year. I transcribe this information, not merely because I
think that, among so many words, the reader is fairly entitled to expect
some little information, but chiefly for the benefit of a friend of mine,
the like of whom, no doubt, the reader counts among his acquaintances.
The friend I mean has a mind so quaintly voracious of facts that, often
when we have been dining together at one of the great hotels, he would
speculate, say, looking round the room filled with eager diners, on how
many clams are nightly consumed in New York City, or how many millions
of fresh eggs New York requires each morning for breakfast. So when next
I dine with him I will say, as he asks me about my trip:
"Do you know that in the Cohocton Valley they raise as much as one
hundred to one hundred and fifty bushels of potatoes to the acre?" And
he will say:
"You don't really mean to say so?"
I have in my private note-book much more such tabulated information which
I picked up and hoarded for his entertainment, just as whenever a letter
comes to me from abroad, I tear off the stamp and save it for a little
girl I love.
But, as I said, our friend in the buggy was by no means limited to
potatoes for his conversation. He was learned in the geography of the
valley and told us how once the Cohocton River, now merely a decorative
stream among willows, was once a serviceable waterway, how it was once
busy with mills, and how men used to raft down it as far as Elmira.
But "the springs were drying up." I liked the mysterious sound of that,
and still more his mysterious story of an undercurrent from the Great
Lakes that runs beneath the valley. I seemed to hear the sound of its
strange subterranean flow as he talked. Such is the fun of knowing so
little about the world. The simplest fact out of a child's geography thus
comes to one new and marvellous.
Well, we had to say good-bye at last to our friend at a cross-road, and
we left him learnedly discussing the current prices of apples with a
business acquaintance who had just driven up--Kings, Rambos, Baldwins,
Greenings, and Spigs. And, by the way, in packing apples into barrels,
you must always pack them--stems down. Be careful to remember that.
A DITHYRAMBUS OF BUTTEEMILK
One discovery of some importance you make in walking the roads is the
comparative rarity and exceeding preciousness of buttermilk. We had, as I
said, caught up with Summer. Summer, need one say, is a thirsty
companion, and the State seemed suddenly to have gone dry. We looked in
vain for magic mirrors by the roadside, overhung with fairy grasses,
littered with Autumn leaves, and skated over by nimble water-bugs. As our
friend had said, the springs seemed to have dried up. Now and again we
would hail with a great cry a friendly pump; once we came upon a
cider-mill, but it was not working, and time and again we knocked and
asked in vain for buttermilk. Sometimes, but not often, we found it. Once
we met a genial old man just leaving his farm door, and told him that we
were literally dying for a drink of buttermilk. Our expression seemed to
"Well!" he said, laughing, "it shall never be said that two poor
creatures passed my door, and died for lack of a glass of buttermilk,"
and he brought out a huge jug, for which he would accept nothing but our
blessings. He seemed to take buttermilk lightly; but, one evening, we
came upon another old farmer to whom buttermilk seemed a species of the
water of life to be hoarded jealously and doled out in careful quantities
at strictly market rates.
In town one imagines that country people give their buttermilk to the
pigs. At any rate, they didn't give it to us. We paid that old man
twenty cents, for we drank two glasses apiece. And first we had knocked
at the farm door, and told our need to a pretty young woman, who
answered, with some hesitancy, that she would call "father." She seemed
to live in some awe of "father," as we well understood when a tall,
raw-boned, stern, old man, of the caricature "Brother Jonathan" type,
appeared grimly, making an iron sound with a great bunch of keys. On
hearing our request, he said nothing, but, motioning to us to follow,
stalked across the farmyard to a small building under a great elm-tree.
There were two steps down to the door, and it had a mysterious
appearance. It might have been a family vault, a dynamite magazine, or
the Well at the World's End. It was the strong-room of the milk; and,
when the grim old guardian of the dairy unlocked the door, with a sound
of rusty locks and falling bolts, there, cool and cloistral, were the
fragrant pans and bowls, the most sacred vessels of the farm.
"_She bathed her body many a time
In fountains filled with milk_."
I hummed to Colin; but I took care that the old man didn't hear me. And
we agreed, as we went on again along the road, that he did right to guard
well and charge well for so noble and so innocent a drink. Indeed, the
old fellow's buttermilk was so good that I think it must have gone to my
head. In no other way can I account for the following dithyrambic song:
_Let whoso will sing Bacchus' vine,
We know a drink that's more divine;
'Tis white and innocent as doves,
Fragrant and bosom-white as love's
White bosom on a Summer day,
And fragrant as the hawthorn spray.
Let Dionysus and his crew,
Garlanded, drain their fevered brew,
And in the orgiastic bowl
Drug and besot the sacred soul;
This simple country cup we drain
Knows not the ghosts of sin and pain,
No fates or furies follow him
Who sips from its cream-mantled rim.
Yea! all his thoughts are country-sweet,
And safe the walking of his feet,
However hard and long the way--
With country sleep to end the day.
To drain this cup no man shall rue--
The innocent madness of the dew
Who shall repent, or frenzy fine
Of morning star, or the divine
Inebriation of the hours
When May roofs in the world with flowers!
About this cup the swallows skim,
And the low milking-star hangs dim
Across the meadows, and the moon
Is near in heaven_--_the young moon;
And murmurs sweet of field and hill
Loiter awhile, and all is still.
As in some chapel dear to Pan,
The fair milk glimmers in the can,
And, in the silence cool and white,
The cream mounts through the listening night;
And, all around the sleeping house,
You hear the breathing of the cows,
And drowsy rattle of the chain,
Till lo! the blue-eyed morn again_.
A GROWL ABOUT AMERICAN COUNTRY HOTELS
Though Colin and I had been walking but a very few days, after the first
day or two it seemed as though we had been out on the road for weeks; as
though, indeed, we had spent our lives in the open air; and it needed no
more than our brief experience for us to realize what one so often reads
of those who do actually live their lives out-of-doors, gypsies, sailors,
cowboys and the like--how intolerable to them is a roof, and how
literally they gasp for air and space in the confined walls of cities.
Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river--
There's the life for a man like me,
There's the life forever.
The only time of the day when our spirits began to fail was toward its
close, when the shadows of supper and bed in some inclement inn began to
fall over us, and we confessed to each other a positive sense of fear in
our evening approach to the abodes of men. After a long, safe, care-free
day, in the company of liberating prospects and sweet-breathed winds,
there seemed a curious lurking menace in the most harmless village, as
well as an unspeakable irksomeness in its inharmonious interruption of
our mood. To emerge, saturated, body and soul, with the sweet scents and
sounds and sights of a day's tramp, out of the meditative leafiness and
spiritual temper of natural things, into the garishly lit street of some
little provincial town, animated with the clumsy mirth of silly young
country folks, aping so drearily the ribaldry, say, of Elmira, is a
painful anticlimax to the spirit. Had it only been real Summer, instead
of Indian Summer, we should, of course, have been real gypsies, and made
our beds under the stars, but, as it was, we had no choice. Or, had we
been walking in Europe ... yes, I am afraid the truth must out, and that
our real dread at evening was--the American country hotel. With the best
wish in the world, it is impossible to be enthusiastic over the American
country hotel. How ironically the kindly old words used to come floating
to me out of Shakespeare each evening as the shadows fell, and the lights
came out in the windows--"to take mine ease at mine inn;" and assuredly
it was on another planet that Shenstone wrote:
_Whoe'er hath travelled life's dull round,
Whate'er his fortunes may have been,
Must sigh to think he still has found
His warmest welcome at an inn_.
Had Shenstone been writing in an American country hotel, his tune would
probably have been more after this fashion: "A wonderful day has come to
a dreary end in the most sepulchral of hotels, a mouldy, barn-like place,
ill-lit, mildewed and unspeakably dismal. A comfortless room with two
beds and two low-power electric lights, two stiff chairs, an
uncompanionable sofa, and some ghastly pictures of simpering naked women.
We have bought some candles, and made a candlestick out of a soap-dish.
Colin is making the best of it with 'The Beloved Vagabond,' and I have
drawn up one of the chairs to a table with a mottled marble top, and am
writing this amid a gloom which you could cut with a knife, and which is
so perfect of its kind as to be almost laughable. But for the mail, which
we found with unutterable thankfulness at the post-office, I hardly dare
think what would have happened to us, to what desperate extremities we
might not have been driven, though even the possibilities of despair seem
limited in this second-hand tomb of a town...."
Here Colin looks up with a wry smile and ironically quotes from the
wisdom of Paragot: "What does it matter where the body finds itself, so
long as the soul has its serene habitations?" This wail is too typical
of most of our hotel experiences. As a rule we found the humble, cheaper
hotels best, and, whenever we had a choice of two, chose the less
Sometimes as, on entering a town or village, we asked some passer-by
about the hotels, we would be looked over and somewhat doubtfully asked:
"Do you want a two-dollar house?" And we soon learned to pocket our
pride, and ask if there was not a cheaper house. Strange that people
whose business is hospitality should be so inhospitable, and strange that
the American travelling salesman, a companionable creature, not averse
from comfort, should not have created a better condition of things. For
the inn should be the natural harmonious close to the day, as much a part
of the day's music as the setting sun. It should be the gratefully sought
shelter from the homeless night, the sympathetic friend of hungry
stomachs and dusty feet, the cozy jingle of social pipes and dreamy
after-dinner talk, the abode of snowy beds for luxuriously aching limbs,
lavendered sheets and pleasant dreams.
But, as people without any humour usually say, "A sense of humour helps
under all circumstances"; and we managed to extract a great deal of fun
out of the rigours of the American country hotel.
In one particularly inhospitable home of hospitality, for example, we
found no little consolation from the directions printed over the very
simple and familiar device for calling up the hotel desk. The device was
nothing more remarkable than the button of an ordinary electric bell,
which you were, in the usual way, to push once for bell-boy, twice for
ice-water, three times for chambermaid, and so on. However, the hotel
evidently regarded it as one of the marvels of advanced science and
referred to it, in solemnly printed "rules" for its use, as no less than
"The Emergency Drop Annunciator!" Angels of the Annunciation! what a
But this is an ill-tempered chapter--let us begin another.
ONIONS, PIGS AND HICKORY-NUTS
One feature of the countryside in which from time to time we found
innocent amusement was the blackboards placed outside farmhouses, on
which are written, that is, "annunciated," the various products the
farmer has for sale, such as apples, potatoes, honey, and so forth. On
one occasion we read: "Get your horses' teeth floated here." There was no
one to ask about what this mysterious proclamation meant. No doubt it was
clear as daylight to the neighbours, but to us it still remains a
mystery. Perhaps the reader knows what it meant. Then on another occasion
we read: "Onions and Pigs For Sale." Why this curious collocation of
onions and pigs? Colin suggested that, of course, the onions were to
stuff the pigs with.
"And here's an idea," he continued. "Suppose we go in and buy a little
suckling-pig and a string of onions. Then we will buy a yard of two of
blue ribbon and tie it round the pig's neck, and you shall lead it along
the road, weeping. I will walk behind it, with the onions, grinning from
ear to ear. And when any one meets us, and asks the meaning of the
strange procession, you will say: 'I am weeping because our little pig
has to die!' And if any one says to me, 'Why are you grinning from ear to
ear?' I shall answer, 'Because I am going to eat him. We are going to
stuff him with onions at the next inn, and eat roast pig at the rising of
But we lacked courage to put our little joke into practice, fearing an
insufficient appreciation of the fantastic in that particular region.
We were now making for Watkins, and had spent the night at Bradford, a
particularly charming village almost lost amid the wooded hills of
another lovely and spacious valley, through which we had lyrically walked
the day before. Bradford is a real country village, and was already all
in a darkness smelling of cows and apples, when we groped for it among
the woods the evening before. At starting out next morning, we inquired
the way to Watkins of a storekeeper standing at his shop-door. He was in
conversation with an acquaintance, and our questions occasioned a lively
argument as to which was the better of two roads. The acquaintance was
for the road through "Pine Creek," and he added, with a grim smile, "I
guess I should know; I've travelled it often enough with a heavy load
behind"; and the recollection of the rough hills he had gone bumping
over, all evidently fresh in his mind, seemed to give him a curious
amusement. It transpired that he was an undertaker!
So we took the road to Pine Creek, but at the threshold of the village
our fancy was taken by the particularly quaint white wooden
meeting-house, surrounded on three sides with tie-up sheds for vehicles,
each stall having a name affixed to it, like a pew: "P. Yawger," "A.W.
Gillum," "Pastor," and so on. Here the pious of the district tied up
their buggies while they went within to pray, and these sacred stalls
made a quaint picture for the imagination of outlying farmers driving to
meeting over the hills on Sabbath mornings.
It was a beautiful morning of veiled sunshine, so warm that some hardy
crickets chirped faintly as we went along. Once a blue jay came and
looked at us, and the squirrels whirred among the chestnuts and
hickories, and the roadsides were so thickly strewn with fallen nuts that
we made but slow progress, stopping all the time to fill our pockets.
For a full hour we sat down with a couple of stones for nut-crackers, and
forgot each other and everything else in the hypnotizing occupation of
cracking hickory-nuts. And we told each other that thus do grown sad men
become boys again, by a woodside, of an October morning, cracking
hickory-nuts, the world well lost.
OCTOBER ROSES AND A YOUNG GIRL'S FACE
The undertaker was certainly right about the road. I think he must have
had a flash of poetic insight into our taste in roads. This was not, as a
rule, understood by the friendly country folk. Their ideas and ours as to
what constituted a good road differed beyond the possibility of
harmonizing. When they said that a road was good they meant that it was
straight, level, and businesslike. When they said that a road was bad
they meant that it was rugged, rambling and picturesque. So, to their
bewilderment, whenever we had a choice of good or bad roads, we always
chose the bad. And, to get at what we really wanted, we learned to
inquire which was the worst road to such and such a place. That we knew
would be the road for us. From their point of view, the road we were on
was as bad as could be; but, as I said, the undertaker evidently
understood us, and had sent us into a region of whimsically sudden hills
and rock and wooded wilderness, a swart country of lonely, rugged
uplands, with but a solitary house here and there for miles. It was
resting at the top of one of these hard-won acclivities that we came
upon--and remember that it was the middle of October--two wild roses
blooming by the roadside. This seems a fact worthy the attention of
botanical societies, and I still have the roses pressed for the
inspection of the learned between the pages of my travelling copy of Hans
Andersen's "Fairy Tales."
A fact additionally curious was that the bush on which the flowers grew
seemed to be the only rose-bush in the region. We looked about us in
vain to find another. How had that single rose-bush come to be, an
uncompanioned exotic, in the rough society of pines and oaks and
hickories, on a rocky hill-top swept by the North wind, and how had those
frail, scented petals found strength and courage thus to bloom alone in
the doorway of Winter? And, why, out of all the roses of the world, had
these two been chosen, still, so late in the year, to hold up the
tattered standard of Summer?
_Why, in the empty Autumn woods,
And all the loss and end of things,
Does one leaf linger on the tree;
Why is it only one bird sings?
And why, across the aching field,
Does one lone cricket chirrup on;
Why one surviving butterfly,
With all its bright companions gone?
And why, when faces all about
Whiten and wither hour by hour,
Does one old face bloom on so sweet,
As young as when it was a flower_?
The same mystery was again presented to us a little farther along the
road, as we stopped at a lone schoolhouse among the hills, the only house
to be seen, and asked our way of the young schoolmarm. The door had been
left half open, and, knocking, we had stepped into the almost empty
schoolroom, with its portrait of Lincoln and a map of the United States.
Three scholars sat there with their kindly-faced teacher, studying
geography amid the silence of the hills, which the little room seemed to
concentrate in a murmuring hush, like a shell. A little boy sat by
himself a desk or two behind two young girls, and as we entered, and the
studious faces looked up in surprise, we saw only the pure brows and the
great spiritual eyes of the older girl, almost a woman, and we thought of
the lonely roses we had found up on the hillside. Here was another rose
blooming in the wilderness, a face lovely and beautiful as a spring
reflecting the sky in the middle of a wood. How had she come there, that
beautiful child-woman in the solitude? By what caprice of the strange law
of the distribution of fair faces had she come to flower in this
particular waste place of the earth?--for her face had surely come a long
way, been blown blossom-wise on some far wandering wind, from realms of
old beauty and romance, and it had the exiled look of all beautiful
things. Could she be a plain farmer's daughter, indigenous to that
stubborn soil? No, surely she was not that, and yet--how had she come to
be there? But these were questions we could not put to the schoolmarm.
We could only ask our road, and the prosaic possibilities of lunch in the
neighbourhood, and go on our way. Nor could I press that rose among the
pages of my book--but, as I write, I wonder if it is still making sweet
that desolate spot, and still studying irrelevant geography in the
silence of the hills.
However, we did learn something about our young human rose at a farmhouse
a mile or so farther on. While a motherly housewife prepared us some
lunch, all a-bustle with expectancy of an imminent inroad of harvesters
due to thresh the corn, and liable to eat all before them, a sprightly
young daughter, who attended the same school, and whom we had told about
our call at the schoolhouse, entertained us with girlish gossip of the
neighbourhood. So we learned that our fancies had not been so far wrong,
but that our beautiful young face had indeed come from as far as France,
the orphaned child of a French sailor and an English mother, come over
the seas for a home with a farmer uncle near by. Strange are the
destinies of beautiful faces. All the way from France to Pine Creek! Poor
little world-wandered rose!
And while we ate our lunch, the mother had a sad, beautiful story of a
dead son and a mother's tears to tell us, too sacred to tell again. How
many beautiful faces there are hidden about the world, and how many
beautiful sad stories hidden in the broken hearts of mothers!
CONCERNING THE POPULAR TASTE IN SCENERY AND SOME HAPPY PEOPLE
We had somewhat scorned the idea of Watkins, as being one of Nature's
show-places. In fact, Watkins Glen is, so to say, so nationally beautiful
as latterly to have received a pension from the Government of the United
States, which now undertakes the conservation of its fantastic chasms and
waterfalls. Some one--I am inclined to think it was myself--once said
that he never wished to go to Switzerland, because he feared that the
Alps would be greasy with being climbed. I think it is clear what he
meant. To one who loves Nature for himself, has his own discovering eyes
for her multiform and many-mooded beauty, it is distasteful to have some
excursionist effect of spectacular scenery labelled and thrust upon him
with a showman's raptures; and, in revulsion from the hypocritical
admiration of the vulgar, he turns to the less obvious and less
melodramatic beauty of the natural world. The common eye can see Nature's
beauty only in such melodramatic and sentimental forms--dizzy chasms,
foaming waterfalls, snow-capped mountains and flagrant sunsets, just as
it can realize Nature's wildness of heart only in a menagerie. That a
squirrel or a meadow-lark, or even a guinea-pig, is just as wild as the
wild beasts in a travelling circus is outside the comprehension of the
vulgar, who really hunger after mere marvels, whatever they may be, and
actually have no eyes for beauty at all.
Thus really sublime and grandiose effects of Nature are apt to lose their
edge for us by over-popularization, as many of her scenes and moods have
come to seem platitude from being over-painted. Niagara has suffered far
more from the sentimental tourist and the landscape artist than from all
the power-houses, and one has to make a strenuous effort of detachment
from its excursionist associations to appreciate its sublimity.
Thus Colin and I discussed, in a somewhat bored way, whether we should
trouble to visit the famous Watkins Glen, as we sat over supper in a
Watkins hotel, one of the few really comfortable and cordial hotels we
met in our wanderings, and we smiled to think what the natives would have
made of our conversation. Two professional lovers of beauty calmly
discussing whether it was worth while walking half a mile to see one of
the natural, and national, wonders of America! Why, last season more than
half a million visitors kodaked it, and wrote their names on the face of
the rocks! However, a great natural effect holds its own against no
little vulgarization, and Watkins Glen soon made us forget the trippers
and the concrete footpaths and iron railings of the United States
government, in the fantasies of its weirdly channelled gorge and
mysterious busy water.
Watkins itself, despite its name, is sufficiently favoured by Nature to
make an easy annual living, situated as it is at the south end of the
beautiful Seneca Lake, and at the head of a nobly picturesque valley some
twenty miles long, with a pretty river spreading out into flashing
reed-grown flats, sheer cliffs and minor waterfalls, here and there a
vineyard on the hillside, or the vivid green of celery trenches in the
dark loam of the hollows, all the way to--Elmira! The river and the
trolley run side by side the whole charming way, and, as you near
Elmira, you come upon latticed barns that waft you the fragrance of
drying tobacco-leaves, suspended longitudinally for the wind to play
through. On the morning of our leaving Watkins, we had been roused a
little earlier than usual by mirthful sounds in the street beneath our
hotel windows. Light-hearted voices joking each other floated up to us,
and some one out of the gladness of his heart was executing a spirited
shake-down on the sidewalk--at six o'clock of a misty October morning.
Looking out, we caught an endearing glimpse of the life of the most
lovable of all professions. It was a theatrical company that had played a
one-night stand at the local opera-house the evening before, and was now
once more upon its wandering way. They had certainly been up till past
midnight, but here they were, at six o'clock of the morning, merry as
larks, gay as children, waiting for the Elmira trolley. Presently the car
came clanging up, and alongside drew up a big float, containing baggage
and rolls of scenery--all of which, to our astonishment, by some miracle
of loading known only to baggagemen, was in a few moments stowed away
into the waiting car. When the last property was shipped, the conductor
rang his bell, by way of warning, and the whole group, like a flight of
happy birds, climbed chattering into the car. "All aboard," called the
conductor, once more ringing his bell, and off they went, leaving a trail
of laughter in the morning air.
"'Beloved Vagabonds!'" said Colin, as we turned away, lonely, from our
windows, with, I hardly know why, a suspicion of tears in our eyes.
Here for a while a shadow seemed to fall over our trip. No doubt it was
the shadow of the great town we were approaching. Not that we have
anything against Elmira, though possibly its embattled reformatory,
frowning from the hillside, contributed its gloomy associations to our
spirits. It was against towns in general that our gorge rose. Did our
vagabond ethics necessitate our conscientiously tramping every foot of
these "gritty paving-stones," we asked each other, as we entered upon a
region of depressing suburbs, and we called a halt on the spot to discuss
the point. The discussion was not long, and it was brought to a
cheerful, demoralized end by the approach of the trolley, into which,
regardless of right or wrong, we climbed with alacrity, not to alight
till not only Elmira was left behind, but more weary suburbs, too, on the
other side. That night, as old travellers phrase it, we lay at Waverly,
on the frontier of Pennsylvania, a sad, dirty little town, grotesquely
belying its romantic name, and only surpassed in squalor by the
classically named Athens--beware, reader, of American towns named out of
classical dictionaries! Here, however, our wanderings in the
brick-and-mortar wilderness were to end, for by a long, romantic, old,
covered bridge we crossed the Chemung River, and there once more, on the
other side, was Nature, lovelier than ever, awaiting us. Not Dante, when
he emerged from Hades and again beheld the stars, drew deeper breaths of
escape than we, thus escaping from--Athens!
And soon we were to meet the Susquehanna--beautiful, broad-bosomed name,
that has always haunted my imagination like the name of some beautiful
savage princess--_La belle sauvage_. Susquehanna! What a southern
opulence in the soft, seductive syllables! Yes, soon we were to meet the
Susquehanna. Nor had we long to wait, and little did we suspect what our
meeting with that beautiful river was to mean.
The Chemung, on whose east bank we were now walking, seemed a noble
enough river, very broad and all the more picturesque for being
shallow with the Summer drought; and its shining reaches and wooded
banks lifted up our hearts. She, like ourselves, was on her way to
join the Susquehanna, a mile or two below, and we said to ourselves,
that, beautiful as the land had been through which we had already
passed, we were now entering on a Nature of more heroic mould,
mightier contours, and larger aspects. We were henceforth to walk in
the company of great rivers: the Susquehanna, like some epic goddess,
was to lead us to the Lehigh; the Blue Mountains were to bring us to
the Delaware; and the uplands of Sullivan County were to bring us
to--the lordly gates of the Hudson.
Our chests expanded as imagination luxuriated in the pictures it made.
Our walk was only just beginning.
AND UNEXPECTEDLY THE LAST
We had seen the two great rivers sweep into each other's arms in a broad
glory of sunlit water, meeting at the bosky end of a wooded promontory,
and yes! there was the Susquehanna glittering far beneath--the beautiful
name I had so often seen and wondered about, painted on the sides of
giant freight-cars! Yes, there was actually the great legendary river. It
was a very warm, almost sultry noonday, more like midsummer than
mid-October, and the river was almost blinding in its flashing beauty.
Loosening our knapsacks, we called a halt and, leaning over the railing
guarding the precipitous bank, luxuriated in the visionary scene. So
high was the bank, and so broad the river, that we seemed lifted up into
space, and the river, dreamily flowing beneath a gauze veil of heat-mist,
seemed miles below us and drowsily unreal. Its course inshore was dotted
with boulders, in the shadows of which we could see long ghostly fishes
lazily gliding, and a mud-turtle, with a trail of little ones, slowly
moving from rock to rock.
Suddenly Colin put his hand to his head, and swayed toward me, as though
he were about to faint.
"I don't know what's the matter, old man," he said, "but I think I had
better sit down a minute." And he sank by the roadside.
Unlike himself, he had been complaining of fatigue, and had seemed out of
sorts for a day or two, but we had thought nothing of it; and, after
resting a few minutes, he announced himself ready for the road again,
but he looked very pale and walked with evident weariness. As a roadside
cottage came in sight, "I wonder if they could give us a cup of tea," he
said; "that would fix me up, I'm sure." So we knocked, and the door was
opened by a pathetic shadow of an old woman, very poor and thin and
weary-looking, who, although, as we presently learned, she was at the
moment suffering from the recent loss of one eye, made us welcome and
busied herself about tea, with an unselfish kindness that touched our
hearts, and made us reflect on the angelic goodness of human
She looked anxiously, mother-like, at Colin, and persuaded him to lie
down and rest awhile in her little parlour, and, while he rested, she and
I talked and she told me how she had come by her blind eye--an odd,
harmless-sounding cause. She had been looking up into one of her
apple-trees, one day, a few weeks ago, and an apple had fallen and struck
her in the eye. Such innocent means does Nature sometimes use for her
cruel accidents of disease and death! Just an apple falling from a
tree,--and you are blind! A fly stings you, on a Summer day, and you die.
Colin, rested and refreshed, we once more started on our way, but,
bravely as he strode on, there was no disguising it--my blithe,
happy-hearted companion was ill. Of course we both assured the other that
it could be nothing, but privately our hearts sank with a vague fear we
did not speak. At length, after a weary four miles, we reached Towanda.
"I'm afraid," said poor Colin, "I can walk no more to-day. Perhaps a good
night's rest will make me all right." We found an inn, and while Colin
threw himself, wearied, on his bed, I went out, not telling him, and
sought a doctor.
"And you've been walking with this temperature?" said the learned man,
when he had seated himself at Colin's bedside and felt his wrist. "Have
you been drinking much water as you went along? ... H'm--it's been a very
dry Summer, you know."
And the words of our friend in the buggy came back to us with sickening
emphasis. O those innocent-looking fairy wells and magic mirrors by the
road-side! And I thought, too, of the poor old blinded woman and the
falling apple. Was Nature really like that?
And then the wise man's verdict fell on our ears like a doom.
"Take my advice, and don't walk any more, but catch the night train for
Poor Colin! But there was no appeal.
The end of our trip had come, suddenly, unreasonably, stupidly,
"So we've got to be shot into New York like a package through a tube,
after all!" said Colin. "No lordly gates of the Hudson for us! What a
fool I feel, to be the one to spoil our trip like this!"
And the tears glistened in our eyes, as we pressed each other's hand in
that dreary inn bedroom, with the shadow of we knew not what for Colin
over us--for our comradeship had been very good, day by day, together on
the open road.
Our train did not go till midnight, so we had a long melancholy evening
before us; but the doctor had given Colin some mysterious potion
containing rest, and presently, as I sat by his side in the gray
twilight, he fell into a deep sleep--a sleep, alas! of fire and wandering
talk. It was pitiful to hear him, poor fellow--living over again in
dreams the road we had travelled, or making pictures of the road he
still dreamed ahead of us. Never before had I realized how entirely his
soul was the soul of a painter--all pictures and colour.
"O my God!" he would suddenly exclaim, "did you ever see such blue in
your life!" and then again, evidently referring to some particularly
attractive effect in the phantasmagoria of his fever, "it's no use--you
must let me stop and have a shot to get that, before it goes."
One place that seemed particularly to haunt him was--Mauch Chunk. He had
been there before, and, as we had walked along, had often talked
enthusiastically of it. "Wait till we get to Mauch Chunk," he said; "then
the real fun will begin." And now, over and over again, he kept making
pictures of Mauch Chunk, till I could have cried.
"Dramatic black rocks," he would murmur, "water rushing from the hills
in every direction--clean-cut, vivid scenery--like theatres--the road
runs by the side of a steel-blue river at the bottom of a chasm, and
there is hardly room for it--the houses cling to the hillside like
swallows' nests--here and there patches of fresh green grass gleam among
the rocks, and, high up in the air on some dizzy ledge, there is a wild
apple-tree in blossom--it is all black rocks and springs and moss and
Then again his soul was evidently walking in the Blue Mountains, and
several times he repeated a phrase of mine that had taken his fancy: "And
now for the spacious corridors of the Highlands, and the lordly gates of
Then he would suddenly half awaken and turn to me, realizing the
truth, and say:
"O our beautiful journey--to end like this!" and fall asleep again.
And once more I fell to thinking of fairy springs by the roadside, and
apples falling innocently from the bough, and how the beautiful journey
we call life might some day suddenly end like this, with half the
beautiful road untravelled--the rest sleep and perchance dreams.
* * * * *
But Colin did not die. He is once more painting out in the sun, and next
year we plan to stand again on that very spot by the Susquehanna, and
watch the shadows of great fishes gliding through the dreamy water, and
the mud-turtle with her trail of little ones moving from rock to
rock--and then we shall strike out on the road again, just where we left
off that October afternoon; but the reader need not be afraid--we shall
not write a book about it.
_And now the merry way we took
Is nothing but a printed book;
We would you had been really there,
Out with us in the open air--
For, after all, the best of words
Are but a poor exchange for birds.
Yet if, perchance, this book of ours
Should sometimes make you think of flowers,
Orchards and barns and harvest wain,
"It was not written all in vain--"
So authors used to make their bow,
As, Gentle Reader, we do now_.
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