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Title: Adventures in Contentment
Author: Grayson, David, 1870-1946
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[*Note: Please Credit to Sjaani]


_ADVENTURES IN CONTENTMENT_

David Grayson



I


"THE BURDEN OF THE VALLEY OF VISION"

I came here eight years ago as the renter of this farm, of which soon
afterward I became the owner. The time before that I like to forget. The
chief impression it left, upon my memory, now happily growing
indistinct, is of being hurried faster than I could well travel. From
the moment, as a boy of seventeen, I first began to pay my own way, my
days were ordered by an inscrutable power which drove me hourly to my
task. I was rarely allowed to look up or down, but always forward,
toward that vague Success which we Americans love to glorify.

My senses, my nerves, even my muscles were continually strained to the
utmost of attainment. If I loitered or paused by the wayside, as it
seems natural for me to do, I soon heard the sharp crack of the lash.
For many years, and I can say it truthfully, I never rested. I neither
thought nor reflected. I had no pleasure, even though I pursued it
fiercely during the brief respite of vacations. Through many feverish
years I did not work: I merely produced.

The only real thing I did was to hurry as though every moment were my
last, as though the world, which now seems so rich in everything, held
only one prize which might be seized upon before I arrived. Since then I
have tried to recall, like one who struggles to restore the visions of a
fever, what it was that I ran to attain, or why I should have borne
without rebellion such indignities to soul and body. That life seems
now, of all illusions, the most distant and unreal. It is like the
unguessed eternity before we are born: not of concern compared with that
eternity upon which we are now embarked.

All these things happened in cities and among crowds. I like to forget
them. They smack of that slavery of the spirit which is so much worse
than any mere slavery of the body.

One day--it was in April, I remember, and the soft maples in the city
park were just beginning to blossom--I stopped suddenly. I did not
intend to stop. I confess in humiliation that it was no courage, no will
of my own. I intended to go on toward Success: but Fate stopped me. It
was as if I had been thrown violently from a moving planet: all the
universe streamed around me and past me. It seemed to me that of all
animate creation, I was the only thing that was still or silent. Until I
stopped I had not known the pace I ran; and I had a vague sympathy and
understanding, never felt before, for those who left the running. I lay
prostrate with fever and close to death for weeks and watched the world
go by: the dust, the noise, the very colour of haste. The only sharp
pang that I suffered was the feeling that I should be broken-hearted and
that I was not; that I should care and that I did not. It was as though
I had died and escaped all further responsibility. I even watched with
dim equanimity my friends racing past me, panting as they ran. Some of
them paused an instant to comfort me where I lay, but I could see that
their minds were still upon the running and I was glad when they went
away. I cannot tell with what weariness their haste oppressed me. As for
them, they somehow blamed me for dropping out. I knew. Until we
ourselves understand, we accept no excuse from the man who stops. While
I felt it all, I was not bitter. I did not seem to care. I said to
myself: "This is Unfitness. I survive no longer. So be it."

Thus I lay, and presently I began to hunger and thirst. Desire rose
within me: the indescribable longing of the convalescent for the food of
recovery. So I lay, questioning wearily what it was that I required. One
morning I wakened with a strange, new joy in my soul. It came to me at
that moment with indescribable poignancy, the thought of walking
barefoot in cool, fresh plow furrows as I had once done when a boy. So
vividly the memory came to me--the high airy world as it was at that
moment, and the boy I was walking free in the furrows--that the weak
tears filled my eyes, the first I had shed in many years. Then I thought
of sitting in quiet thickets in old fence corners, the wood behind me
rising still, cool, mysterious, and the fields in front stretching away
in illimitable pleasantness. I thought of the good smell of cows at
milking--you do not know, if you do not know!--I thought of the sights
and sounds, the heat and sweat of the hay fields. I thought of a certain
brook I knew when a boy that flowed among alders and wild parsnips,
where I waded with a three-foot rod for trout. I thought of all these
things as a man thinks of his first love. Oh, I craved the soil. I
hungered and thirsted for the earth. I was greedy for growing things.

And thus, eight years ago, I came here like one sore-wounded creeping
from the field of battle. I remember walking in the sunshine, weak yet,
but curiously satisfied. I that was dead lived again. It came to me then
with a curious certainty, not since so assuring, that I understood the
chief marvel of nature hidden within the Story of the Resurrection, the
marvel of plant and seed, father and son, the wonder of the seasons, the
miracle of life. I, too, had died: I had lain long in darkness, and now
I had risen again upon the sweet earth. And I possessed beyond others a
knowledge of a former existence, which I knew, even then, I could never
return to.

For a time, in the new life, I was happy to drunkenness--working,
eating, sleeping. I was an animal again, let out to run in green
pastures. I was glad of the sunrise and the sunset. I was glad at noon.
It delighted me when my muscles ached with work and when, after supper,
I could not keep my eyes open for sheer weariness. And sometimes I was
awakened in the night out of a sound sleep--seemingly by the very
silences--and lay in a sort of bodily comfort impossible to describe.

I did not want to feel or to think: I merely wanted to live. In the sun
or the rain I wanted to go out and come in, and never again know the
pain of the unquiet spirit. I looked forward to an awakening not without
dread for we are as helpless before birth as in the presence of death.

But like all birth, it came, at last, suddenly. All that summer I had
worked in a sort of animal content. Autumn had now come, late autumn,
with coolness in the evening air. I was plowing in my upper field--not
then mine in fact--and it was a soft afternoon with the earth turning up
moist and fragrant. I had been walking the furrows all day long. I had
taken note, as though my life depended upon it, of the occasional stones
or roots in my field, I made sure of the adjustment of the harness, I
drove with peculiar care to save the horses. With such simple details of
the work in hand I had found it my joy to occupy my mind. Up to that
moment the most important things in the world had seemed a straight
furrow and well-turned corners--to me, then, a profound accomplishment.

I cannot well describe it, save by the analogy of an opening door
somewhere within the house of my consciousness. I had been in the dark:
I seemed to emerge. I had been bound down: I seemed to leap up--and with
a marvellous sudden sense of freedom and joy.

I stopped there in my field and looked up. And it was as if I had never
looked up before. I discovered another world. It had been there before,
for long and long, but I had never seen nor felt it. All discoveries are
made in that way: a man finds the new thing, not in nature but in
himself.

It was as though, concerned with plow and harness and furrow, I had
never known that the world had height or colour or sweet sounds, or
that there was _feeling_ in a hillside. I forgot myself, or where I was.
I stood a long time motionless. My dominant feeling, if I can at all
express it, was of a strange new friendliness, a warmth, as though these
hills, this field about me, the woods, had suddenly spoken to me and
caressed me. It was as though I had been accepted in membership, as
though I was now recognised, after long trial, as belonging here.

Across the town road which separates my farm from my nearest
neighbour's, I saw a field, familiar, yet strangely new and unfamiliar,
lying up to the setting sun, all red with autumn, above it the
incalculable heights of the sky, blue, but not quite clear, owing to the
Indian summer haze. I cannot convey the sweetness and softness of that
landscape, the airiness of it, the mystery of it, as it came to me at
that moment. It was as though, looking at an acquaintance long known, I
should discover that I loved him. As I stood there I was conscious of
the cool tang of burning leaves and brush heaps, the lazy smoke of which
floated down the long valley and found me in my field, and finally I
heard, as though the sounds were then made for the first time, all the
vague murmurs of the country side--a cow-bell somewhere in the distance,
the creak of a wagon, the blurred evening hum of birds, insects, frogs.
So much it means for a man to stop and look up from his task. So I
stood, and I looked up and down with a glow and a thrill which I cannot
now look back upon without some envy and a little amusement at the very
grandness and seriousness of it all. And I said aloud to myself:

"I will be as broad as the earth. I will not be limited."

Thus I was born into the present world, and here I continue, not knowing
what other world I may yet achieve. I do not know, but I wait in
expectancy, keeping my furrows straight and my corners well turned.
Since that day in the field, though my fences include no more acres, and
I still plow my own fields, my real domain has expanded until I crop
wide fields and take the profit of many curious pastures. From my farm I
can see most of the world; and if I wait here long enough all people
pass this way.

And I look out upon them not in the surroundings which they have chosen
for themselves, but from the vantage ground of my familiar world. The
symbols which meant so much in cities mean little here. Sometimes it
seems to me as though I saw men naked. They come and stand beside my
oak, and the oak passes solemn judgment; they tread my furrows and the
clods give silent evidence; they touch the green blades of my corn, the
corn whispers its sure conclusions. Stern judgments that will be
deceived by no symbols!

Thus I have delighted, secretly, in calling myself an unlimited farmer,
and I make this confession in answer to the inner and truthful demand of
the soul that we are not, after all, the slaves of things, whether corn,
or banknotes, or spindles; that we are not the used, but the users; that
life is more than profit and loss. And so I shall expect that while I am
talking farm some of you may be thinking dry goods, banking, literature,
carpentry, or what-not. But if you can say: I am an unlimited dry goods
merchant, I am an unlimited carpenter, I will give you an old-fashioned
country hand-shake, strong and warm. We are friends; our orbits
coincide.



II


I BUY A FARM

As I have said, when I came here I came as a renter, working all of the
first summer without that "open vision" of which the prophet Samuel
speaks. I had no memory of the past and no hope of the future. I fed
upon the moment. My sister Harriet kept the house and I looked after the
farm and the fields. In all those months I hardly knew that I had
neighbours, although Horace, from whom I rented my place, was not
infrequently a visitor. He has since said that I looked at him as though
he were a "statute." I was "citified," Horace said; and "citified" with
us here in the country is nearly the limit of invective, though not
violent enough to discourage such a gift of sociability as his. The
Scotch Preacher, the rarest, kindest man I know, called once or twice,
wearing the air of formality which so ill becomes him. I saw nothing in
him: it was my fault, not his, that I missed so many weeks of his
friendship. Once in that time the Professor crossed my fields with his
tin box slung from his shoulder; and the only feeling I had, born of
crowded cities, was that this was an intrusion upon my property.
Intrusion: and the Professor! It is now unthinkable. I often passed the
Carpentry Shop on my way to town. I saw Baxter many times at his bench.
Even then Baxter's eyes attracted me: he always glanced up at me as I
passed, and his look had in it something of a caress. So the home of
Starkweather, standing aloof among its broad lawns and tall trees,
carried no meaning for me.

Of all my neighbours, Horace is the nearest. From the back door of my
house, looking over the hill, I can see the two red chimneys of his
home, and the top of the windmill. Horace's barn and corn silo are more
pretentious by far than his house, but fortunately they stand on lower
ground, where they are not visible from my side of the hill. Five
minutes' walk in a straight line across the fields brings me to Horace's
door; by the road it takes at least ten minutes.

In the fall after my arrival I had come to love the farm and its
surroundings so much that I decided to have it for my own. I did not
look ahead to being a farmer. I did not ask Harriet's advice. I found
myself sitting one day in the justice's office. The justice was bald and
as dry as corn fodder in March. He sat with spectacled impressiveness
behind his ink-stained table. Horace hitched his heel on the round of
his chair and put his hat on his knee. He wore his best coat and his
hair was brushed in deference to the occasion. He looked uncomfortable,
but important. I sat opposite him, somewhat overwhelmed by the business
in hand. I felt like an inadequate boy measured against solemnities too
large for him. The processes seemed curiously unconvincing, like a game
in which the important part is to keep from laughing; and yet when I
thought of laughing I felt cold chills of horror. If I had laughed at
that moment I cannot think what that justice would have said! But it was
a pleasure to have the old man read the deed, looking at me over his
spectacles from time to time to make sure I was not playing truant.
There are good and great words in a deed. One of them I brought away
with me from the conference, a very fine, big one, which I love to have
out now and again to remind me of the really serious things of life. It
gives me a peculiar dry, legal feeling. If I am about to enter upon a
serious bargain, like the sale of a cow, I am more avaricious if I work
with it under my tongue.

Hereditaments! Hereditaments!

Some words need to be fenced in, pig-tight, so that they cannot escape
us; others we prefer to have running at large, indefinite but inclusive.
I would not look up that word for anything: I might find it fenced in so
that it could not mean to me all that it does now.

Hereditaments! May there be many of them--or it!

Is it not a fine Providence that gives us different things to love? In
the purchase of my farm both Horace and I got the better of the
bargain--and yet neither was cheated. In reality a fairly strong lantern
light will shine through Horace, and I could see that he was hugging
himself with the joy of his bargain; but I was content. I had some money
left--what more does anyone want after a bargain?--and I had come into
possession of the thing I desired most of all. Looking at bargains from
a purely commercial point of view, someone is always cheated, but looked
at with the simple eye both seller and buyer always win.

We came away from the gravity of that bargaining in Horace's wagon. On
our way home Horace gave me fatherly advice about using my farm. He
spoke from the height of his knowledge to me, a humble beginner. The
conversation ran something like this:

HORACE: Thar's a clump of plum trees along the lower pasture fence.
Perhaps you saw 'm----

MYSELF: I saw them: that is one reason I bought the back pasture. In May
they will be full of blossoms.

HORACE: They're _wild_ plums: they ain't good for nothing.

MYSELF: But think how fine they will be all the year round.

HORACE: Fine! They take up a quarter-acre of good land. I've been going
to cut 'em myself this ten years.

MYSELF: I don't think I shall want them cut out.

HORACE: Humph.

After a pause:

HORACE: There's a lot of good body cord-wood in that oak on the knoll.

MYSELF: Cord-wood! Why, that oak is the treasure of the whole farm, I
have never seen a finer one. I could not think of cutting it.

HORACE: It will bring you fifteen or twenty dollars cash in hand.

MYSELF: But I rather have the oak.

HORACE: Humph.

So our conversation continued for some time. I let Horace know that I
preferred rail fences, even old ones, to a wire fence, and that I
thought a farm should not be too large, else it might keep one away from
his friends. And what, I asked, is corn compared with a friend? Oh, I
grew really oratorical! I gave it as my opinion that there should be
vines around the house (Waste of time, said Horace), and that no farmer
should permit anyone to paint medicine advertisements on his barn
(Brings you ten dollars a year, said Horace), and that I proposed to fix
the bridge on the lower road (What's a path-master for? asked Horace). I
said that a town was a useful adjunct for a farm; but I laid it down as
a principle that no town should be too near a farm. I finally became so
enthusiastic in setting forth my conceptions of a true farm that I
reduced Horace to a series of humphs. The early humphs were incredulous,
but as I proceeded, with some joy, they became humorously contemptuous,
and finally began to voice a large, comfortable, condescending
tolerance. I could fairly feel Horace growing superior as he sat there
beside me. Oh, he had everything in his favour. He could prove what he
said: One tree + one thicket = twenty dollars. One landscape = ten cords
of wood = a quarter-acre of corn = twenty dollars. These equations prove
themselves. Moreover, was not Horace the "best off" of any farmer in the
country? Did he not have the largest barn and the best corn silo? And
are there better arguments?

Have you ever had anyone give you up as hopeless? And is it not a
pleasure? It is only after people resign you to your fate that you
really make friends of them. For how can you win the friendship of one
who is trying to convert you to his superior beliefs?

As we talked, then, Horace and I, I began to have hopes of him. There is
no joy comparable to the making of a friend, and the more resistant the
material the greater the triumph. Baxter, the carpenter, says that when
he works for enjoyment he chooses curly maple.

When Horace set me down at my gate that afternoon he gave me his hand
and told me that he would look in on me occasionally, and that if I had
any trouble to let him know.

A few days later I heard by the roundabout telegraph common in country
neighbourhoods that Horace had found a good deal of fun in reporting
what I said about farming and that he had called me by a highly humorous
but disparaging name. Horace has a vein of humour all his own. I have
caught him alone in his fields chuckling to himself, and even breaking
out in a loud laugh at the memory of some amusing incident that
happened ten years ago. One day, a month or more after our bargain,
Horace came down across his field and hitched his jean-clad leg over my
fence, with the intent, I am sure, of delving a little more in the same
rich mine of humour.

"Horace," I said, looking him straight in the eye, "did you call me
an--Agriculturist!"

I have rarely seen a man so pitifully confused as Horace was at that
moment. He flushed, he stammered, he coughed, the perspiration broke out
on his forehead. He tried to speak and could not. I was sorry for him.

"Horace," I said, "you're a Farmer."

We looked at each other a moment with dreadful seriousness, and then
both of us laughed to the point of holding our sides. We slapped our
knees, we shouted, we wriggled, we almost rolled with merriment. Horace
put out his hand and we shook heartily. In five minutes I had the whole
story of his humorous reports out of him.

No real friendship is ever made without an initial clashing which
discloses the metal of each to each. Since that day Horace's jean-clad
leg has rested many a time on my fence and we have talked crops and
calves. We have been the best of friends in the way of whiffle-trees,
butter tubs and pig killings--but never once looked up together at the
sky.

The chief objection to a joke in the country is that it is so
imperishable. There is so much room for jokes and so few jokes to fill
it. When I see Horace approaching with a peculiar, friendly, reminiscent
smile on his face I hasten with all ardour to anticipate him:

"Horace," I exclaim, "you're a Farmer."

[Illustration: "The heat and sweat of the hay fields"]



III


THE JOY OF POSSESSION

"How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees:
How graceful climb these shadows on my hill."

Always as I travel, I think, "Here I am, let anything happen!"

I do not want to know the future; knowledge is too certain, too cold,
too real.

It is true that I have not always met the fine adventure nor won the
friend, but if I had, what should I have more to look for at other
turnings and other hilltops?

The afternoon of my purchase was one of the great afternoons of my life.
When Horace put me down at my gate, I did not go at once to the house;
I did not wish, then, to talk with Harriet. The things I had with myself
were too important. I skulked toward my barn, compelling myself to walk
slowly until I reached the corner, where I broke into an eager run as
though the old Nick himself were after me. Behind the barn I dropped
down on the grass, panting with laughter, and not without some of the
shame a man feels at being a boy. Close along the side of the barn, as I
sat there in the cool of the shade, I could see a tangled mat of
smartweed and catnip, and the boards of the barn, brown and
weather-beaten, and the gables above with mud swallows' nests, now
deserted; and it struck me suddenly, as I observed these homely pleasant
things:

"All this is mine."

I sprang up and drew a long breath.

"Mine," I said.

It came to me then like an inspiration that I might now go out and take
formal possession of my farm. I might experience the emotion of a
landowner. I might swell with dignity and importance--for once, at
least.

So I started at the fence corner back of the barn and walked straight
up through the pasture, keeping close to my boundaries, that I might not
miss a single rod of my acres. And oh, it was a prime afternoon! The
Lord made it! Sunshine--and autumn haze--and red trees--and yellow
fields--and blue distances above the far-away town. And the air had a
tang which got into a man's blood and set him chanting all the poetry he
ever knew.

"I climb that was a clod,
  I run whose steps were slow,
I reap the very wheat of God
  That once had none to sow!"

So I walked up the margin of my field looking broadly about me: and
presently, I began to examine my fences--_my_ fences--with a critical
eye. I considered the quality of the soil, though in truth I was not
much of a judge of such matters. I gloated over my plowed land, lying
there open and passive in the sunshine. I said of this tree: "It is
mine," and of its companion beyond the fence: "It is my neighbour's."
Deeply and sharply within myself I drew the line between _meum_ and
_tuum_: for only thus, by comparing ourselves with our neighbours, can
we come to the true realisation of property. Occasionally I stopped to
pick up a stone and cast it over the fence, thinking with some
truculence that my neighbour would probably throw it back again. Never
mind, I had it out of _my_ field. Once, with eager surplusage of energy,
I pulled down a dead and partly rotten oak stub, long an eye-sore, with
an important feeling of proprietorship. I could do anything I liked. The
farm was _mine_.

How sweet an emotion is possession! What charm is inherent in ownership!
What a foundation for vanity, even for the greater quality of
self-respect, lies in a little property! I fell to thinking of the
excellent wording of the old books in which land is called "real
property," or "real estate." Money we may possess, or goods or chattels,
but they give no such impression of mineness as the feeling that one's
feet rest upon soil that is his: that part of the deep earth is his with
all the water upon it, all small animals that creep or crawl in the
holes of it, all birds or insects that fly in the air above it, all
trees, shrubs, flowers, and grass that grow upon it, all houses, barns
and fences--all, his. As I strode along that afternoon I fed upon
possession. I rolled the sweet morsel of ownership under my tongue. I
seemed to set my feet down more firmly on the good earth. I straightened
my shoulders: _this land was mine_. I picked up a clod of earth and let
it crumble and drop through my fingers: it gave me a peculiar and
poignant feeling of possession. I can understand why the miser enjoys
the very physical contact of his gold. Every sense I possessed, sight,
hearing, smell, touch, led upon the new joy.

At one corner of my upper field the fence crosses an abrupt ravine upon
leggy stilts. My line skirts the slope halfway up. My neighbour owns the
crown of the hill which he has shorn until it resembles the tonsured
pate of a monk. Every rain brings the light soil down the ravine and
lays it like a hand of infertility upon my farm. It had always bothered
me, this wastage; and as I looked across my fence I thought to myself:

"I must have that hill. I will buy it. I will set the fence farther up.
I will plant the slope. It is no age of tonsures either in religion or
agriculture."

The very vision of widened acres set my thoughts on fire. In
imagination I extended my farm upon all sides, thinking how much better
I could handle my land than my neighbours. I dwelt avariciously upon
more possessions: I thought with discontent of my poverty. More land I
wanted. I was enveloped in clouds of envy. I coveted my neighbour's
land: I felt myself superior and Horace inferior: I was consumed with
black vanity.

So I dealt hotly with these thoughts until I reached the top of the
ridge at the farther corner of my land. It is the highest point on the
farm.

For a moment I stood looking about me on a wonderful prospect of serene
beauty. As it came to me--hills, fields, woods--the fever which had been
consuming me died down. I thought how the world stretched away from my
fences--just such fields--for a thousand miles, and in each small
enclosure a man as hot as I with the passion of possession. How they all
envied, and hated, in their longing for more land! How property kept
them apart, prevented the close, confident touch of friendship, how it
separated lovers and ruined families! Of all obstacles to that complete
democracy of which we dream, is there a greater than property?

I was ashamed. Deep shame covered me. How little of the earth, after
all, I said, lies within the limits of my fences. And I looked out upon
the perfect beauty of the world around me, and I saw how little excited
it was, how placid, how undemanding.

I had come here to be free and already this farm, which I thought of so
fondly as my possession, was coming to possess me. Ownership is an
appetite like hunger or thirst, and as we may eat to gluttony and drink
to drunkenness so we may possess to avarice. How many men have I seen
who, though they regard themselves as models of temperance, wear the
marks of unbridled indulgence of the passion of possession, and how like
gluttony or licentiousness it sets its sure sign upon their faces.

I said to myself, Why should any man fence himself in? And why hope to
enlarge one's world by the creeping acquisition of a few acres to his
farm? I thought of the old scientist, who, laying his hand upon the
grass, remarked: "Everything under my hand is a miracle"--forgetting
that everything outside was also a miracle.

[Illustration: "HOW GRACEFUL CLIMB THESE SHADOWS ON MY HILL"]

As I stood there I glanced across the broad valley wherein lies the most
of my farm, to a field of buckwheat which belongs to Horace. For an
instant it gave me the illusion of a hill on fire: for the late sun
shone full on the thick ripe stalks of the buckwheat, giving forth an
abundant red glory that blessed the eye. Horace had been proud of his
crop, smacking his lips at the prospect of winter pancakes, and here I
was entering his field and taking without hindrance another crop, a crop
gathered not with hands nor stored in granaries: a wonderful crop,
which, once gathered, may long be fed upon and yet remain unconsumed.

So I looked across the countryside; a group of elms here, a tufted
hilltop there, the smooth verdure of pastures, the rich brown of
new-plowed fields--and the odours, and the sounds of the country--all
cropped by me. How little the fences keep me out: I do not regard
titles, nor consider boundaries. I enter either by day or by night, but
not secretly. Taking my fill, I leave as much as I find.

And thus standing upon the highest hill in my upper pasture, I thought
of the quoted saying of a certain old abbot of the middle ages--"He
that is a true monk considers nothing as belonging to him except a
lyre."

What finer spirit? Who shall step forth freer than he who goes with
nothing save his lyre? He shall sing as he goes: he shall not be held
down nor fenced in.

With a lifting of the soul I thought of that old abbot, how smooth his
brow, how catholic his interest, how serene his outlook, how free his
friendships, how unlimited his whole life. Nothing but a lyre!

So I made a covenant there with myself. I said: "I shall use, not be
used. I do not limit myself here. I shall not allow possessions to come
between me and my life or my friends."

For a time--how long I do not know--I stood thinking. Presently I
discovered, moving slowly along the margin of the field below me, the
old professor with his tin botany box. And somehow I had no feeling that
he was intruding upon my new land. His walk was slow and methodical, his
head and even his shoulders were bent--almost habitually--from looking
close upon the earth, and from time to time he stooped, and once he
knelt to examine some object that attracted his eye. It seemed
appropriate that he should thus kneel to the earth. So he gathered _his_
crop and fences did not keep him out nor titles disturb him. He also was
free! It gave me at that moment a peculiar pleasure to have him on my
land, to know that I was, if unconsciously, raising other crops than I
knew. I felt friendship for this old professor: I could understand him,
I thought. And I said aloud but in a low tone, as though I were
addressing him:

--Do not apologise, friend, when you come into my field. You do not
interrupt me. What you have come for is of more importance at this
moment than corn. Who is it that says I must plow so many furrows this
day? Come in, friend, and sit here on these clods: we will sweeten the
evening with fine words. We will invest our time not in corn, or in
cash, but in life.--

I walked with confidence down the hill toward the professor. So
engrossed was he with his employment that he did not see me until I was
within a few paces of him. When he looked up at me it was as though his
eyes returned from some far journey. I felt at first out of focus,
unplaced, and only gradually coming into view. In his hand he held a
lump of earth containing a thrifty young plant of the purple
cone-flower, having several blossoms. He worked at the lump deftly,
delicately, so that the earth, pinched, powdered and shaken out, fell
between his fingers, leaving the knotty yellow roots in his hand. I
marked how firm, slow, brown, the old man was, how little obtrusive in
my field. One foot rested in a furrow, the other was set among the grass
of the margin, near the fence--his place, I thought.

His first words, though of little moment in themselves, gave me a
curious satisfaction, as when a coin, tested, rings true gold, or a
hero, tried, is heroic.

"I have rarely," he said, "seen a finer display of rudbeckia than this,
along these old fences."

If he had referred to me, or questioned, or apologised, I should have
been disappointed. He did not say, "your fences," he said "these
fences," as though they were as much his as mine. And he spoke in his
own world, knowing that if I could enter I would, but that if I could
not, no stooping to me would avail either of us.

"It has been a good autumn for flowers," I said inanely, for so many
things were flying through my mind that I could not at once think of the
great particular words which should bring us together. At first I
thought my chance had passed, but he seemed to see something in me after
all, for he said:

"Here is a peculiarly large specimen of the rudbeckia. Observe the deep
purple of the cone, and the bright yellow of the petals. Here is another
that grew hardly two feet away, in the grass near the fence where the
rails and the blackberry bushes have shaded it. How small and
undeveloped it is."

"They crowd up to the plowed land," I observed.

"Yes, they reach out for a better chance in life--like men. With more
room, better food, freer air, you see how much finer they grow."

It was curious to me, having hitherto barely observed the cone-flowers
along my fences, save as a colour of beauty, how simply we fell to
talking of them as though in truth they were people like ourselves,
having our desires and possessed of our capabilities. It gave me then,
for the first time, the feeling which has since meant such varied
enjoyment, of the peopling of the woods.

"See here," he said, "how different the character of these individuals.
They are all of the same species. They all grow along this fence within
two or three rods; but observe the difference not only in size but in
colouring, in the shape of the petals, in the proportions of the cone.
What does it all mean? Why, nature trying one of her endless
experiments. She sows here broadly, trying to produce better
cone-flowers. A few she plants on the edge of the field in the hope that
they may escape the plow. If they grow, better food and more sunshine
produce more and larger flowers."

So we talked, or rather he talked, finding in me an eager listener. And
what he called botany seemed to me to be life. Of birth, of growth, of
reproduction, of death, he spoke, and his flowers became sentient
creatures under my eyes.

And thus the sun went down and the purple mists crept silently along the
distant low spots, and all the great, great mysteries came and stood
before me beckoning and questioning. They came and they stood, and out
of the cone-flower, as the old professor spoke, I seemed to catch a
glimmer of the true light. I reflected how truly everything is in
anything. If one could really understand a cone-flower he could
understand this Earth. Botany was only one road toward the Explanation.

Always I hope that some traveller may have more news of the way than I,
and sooner or later, I find I must make inquiry of the direction of
every thoughtful man I meet. And I have always had especial hope of
those who study the sciences: they ask such intimate questions of
nature. Theology possesses a vain-gloriousness which places its faith in
human theories; but science, at its best, is humble before nature
herself. It has no thesis to defend: it is content to kneel upon the
earth, in the way of my friend, the old professor, and ask the simplest
questions, hoping for some true reply.

I wondered, then, what the professor thought, after his years of work,
of the Mystery; and finally, not without confusion, I asked him. He
listened, for the first time ceasing to dig, shake out and arrange his
specimens. When I had stopped speaking he remained for a moment silent,
then he looked at me with a new regard. Finally he quoted quietly, but
with a deep note in his voice:

"Canst thou by searching find God? Canst thou
find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high
as heaven: what canst thou do? deeper than hell,
what canst thou know?"

When the professor had spoken we stood for a moment silent, then he
smiled and said briskly:

"I have been a botanist for fifty-four years. When I was a boy I
believed implicitly in God. I prayed to him, having a vision of him--a
person--before my eyes. As I grew older I concluded that there was no
God. I dismissed him from the universe. I believed only in what I could
see, or hear, or feel. I talked about Nature and Reality."

He paused, the smile still lighting his face, evidently recalling to
himself the old days. I did not interrupt him. Finally he turned to me
and said abruptly.

"And now--it seems to me--there is nothing but God."

As he said this he lifted his arm with a peculiar gesture that seemed
to take in the whole world.

For a time we were both silent. When I left him I offered my hand and
told him I hoped I might become his friend. So I turned my face toward
home. Evening was falling, and as I walked I heard the crows calling,
and the air was keen and cool, and I thought deep thoughts.

And so I stepped into the darkened stable. I could not see the outlines
of the horse or the cow, but knowing the place so well I could easily
get about. I heard the horse step aside with a soft expectant whinny. I
smelled the smell of milk, the musty, sharp odour of dry hay, the
pungent smell of manure, not unpleasant. And the stable was warm after
the cool of the fields with a sort of animal warmth that struck into me
soothingly. I spoke in a low voice and laid my hand on the horse's
flank. The flesh quivered and shrunk away from my touch--coming back
confidently, warmly. I ran my hand along his back and up his hairy neck.
I felt his sensitive nose in my hand. "You shall have your oats," I
said, and I gave him to eat. Then I spoke as gently to the cow, and she
stood aside to be milked.

And afterward I came out into the clear bright night, and the air was
sweet and cool, and my dog came bounding to meet me.--So I carried the
milk into the house, and Harriet said in her heartiest tone:

"You are late, David. But sit up, I have kept the biscuits warm."

And that night my sleep was sound.



IV


ENTERTAIN AN AGENT UNAWARES

With the coming of winter I thought the life of a farmer might lose
something of its charm. So much interest lies in the growth not only of
crops but of trees, vines, flowers, sentiments and emotions. In the
summer the world is busy, concerned with many things and full of gossip:
in the winter I anticipated a cessation of many active interests and
enthusiasms. I looked forward to having time for my books and for the
quiet contemplation of the life around me. Summer indeed is for
activity, winter for reflection. But when winter really came every day
discovered some new work to do or some new adventure to enjoy. It is
surprising how many things happen on a small farm. Examining the book
which accounts for that winter, I find the history of part of a
forenoon, which will illustrate one of the curious adventures of a
farmer's life. It is dated January 5.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went out this morning with my axe and hammer to mend the fence along
the public road. A heavy frost fell last night and the brown grass and
the dry ruts of the roads were powdered white. Even the air, which was
perfectly still, seemed full of frost crystals, so that when the sun
came up one seemed to walk in a magic world. I drew in a long breath and
looked out across the wonderful shining country and I said to myself:

"Surely, there is nowhere I would rather be than here." For I could have
travelled nowhere to find greater beauty or a better enjoyment of it
than I had here at home.

As I worked with my axe and hammer, I heard a light wagon come rattling
up the road. Across the valley a man had begun to chop a tree. I could
see the axe steel flash brilliantly in the sunshine before I heard the
sound of the blow.

The man in the wagon had a round face and a sharp blue eye. I thought he
seemed a businesslike young man.

"Say, there," he shouted, drawing up at my gate, "would you mind holding
my horse a minute? It's a cold morning and he's restless."

"Certainly not," I said, and I put down my tools and held his horse.

He walked up to my door with a brisk step and a certain jaunty poise of
the head.

"He is well contented with himself," I said. "It is a great blessing for
any man to be satisfied with what he has got."

I heard Harriet open the door--how every sound rang through the still
morning air!

The young man asked some question and I distinctly heard Harriet's
answer:

"He's down there."

The young man came back: his hat was tipped up, his quick eye darted
over my grounds as though in a single instant he had appraised
everything and passed judgment upon the cash value of the inhabitants.
He whistled a lively little tune.

"Say," he said, when he reached the gate, not at all disconcerted, "I
thought you was the hired man. Your name's Grayson, ain't it? Well, I
want to talk with you."

After tying and blanketing his horse and taking a black satchel from his
buggy he led me up to my house. I had a pleasurable sense of excitement
and adventure. Here was a new character come to my farm. Who knows, I
thought, what he may bring with him: who knows what I may send away by
him? Here in the country we must set our little ships afloat on small
streams, hoping that somehow, some day, they will reach the sea.

It was interesting to see the busy young man sit down so confidently in
our best chair. He said his name was Dixon, and he took out from his
satchel a book with a fine showy cover. He said it was called "Living
Selections from Poet, Sage and Humourist."

"This," he told me, "is only the first of the series. We publish six
volumes full of literchoor. You see what a heavy book this is?"

I tested it in my hand: it was a heavy book.

"The entire set," he said, "weighs over ten pounds. There are 1,162
pages, enough paper if laid down flat, end to end, to reach half a
mile."

I cannot quote his exact language: there was too much of it, but he made
an impressive showing of the amount of literature that could be had at a
very low price per pound. Mr. Dixon was a hypnotist. He fixed me with
his glittering eye, and he talked so fast, and his ideas upon the
subject were so original that he held me spellbound. At first I was
inclined to be provoked: one does not like to be forcibly hypnotised,
but gradually the situation began to amuse me, the more so when Harriet
came in.

"Did you ever see a more beautiful binding?" asked the agent, holding
his book admiringly at arm's length. "This up here," he said, pointing
to the illuminated cover, "is the Muse of Poetry She is scattering
flowers--poems, you know. Fine idea, ain't it? Colouring fine, too."

He jumped up quickly and laid the book on my table, to the evident
distress of Harriet.

"Trims up the room, don't it?" he exclaimed, turning his head a little
to one side and observing the effect with an expression of affectionate
admiration.

"How much," I asked, "will you sell the covers for without the
insides?"

"Without the insides?"

"Yes," I said, "the binding will trim up my table just as well without
the insides."

I thought he looked at me a little suspiciously, but he was evidently
satisfied by my expression of countenance, for he answered promptly:

"Oh, but you want the insides. That's what the books are for. The
bindings are never sold alone."

He then went on to tell me the prices and terms of payment, until it
really seemed that it would be cheaper to buy the books than to let him
carry them away again. Harriet stood in the doorway behind him frowning
and evidently trying to catch my eye. But I kept my face turned aside so
that I could not see her signal of distress and my eyes fixed on the
young man Dixon. It was as good as a play. Harriet there,
serious-minded, thinking I was being befooled, and the agent thinking he
was befooling me, and I, thinking I was befooling both of them--and all
of us wrong. It was very like life wherever you find it.

Finally, I took the book which he had been urging upon me, at which
Harriet coughed meaningly to attract my attention. She knew the danger
when I really got my hands on a book. But I made up as innocent as a
child. I opened the book almost at random--and it was as though, walking
down a strange road, I had come upon an old tried friend not seen before
in years. For there on the page before me I read:

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
But are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not."

And as I read it came back to me--a scene like a picture--the place, the
time, the very feel of the hour when I first saw those lines. Who shall
say that the past does not live! An odour will sometimes set the blood
coursing in an old emotion, and a line of poetry is the resurrection and
the life. For a moment I forgot Harriet and the agent, I forgot myself,
I even forgot the book on my knee--everything but that hour in the
past--a view of shimmering hot housetops, the heat and dust and noise of
an August evening in the city, the dumb weariness of it all, the
loneliness, the longing for green fields; and then these great lines of
Wordsworth, read for the first time, flooding in upon me:

       "Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn:
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
And hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn."

When I had finished I found myself standing in my own room with one arm
raised, and, I suspect, a trace of tears in my eyes--there before the
agent and Harriet. I saw Harriet lift one hand and drop it hopelessly.
She thought I was captured at last. I was past saving. And as I looked
at the agent I saw "grim conquest glowing in his eye!" So I sat down not
a little embarrassed by my exhibition--when I had intended to be
self-poised.

"You like it, don't you?" said Mr. Dixon unctuously.

"I don't see," I said earnestly, "how you can afford to sell such
things as this so cheap."

"They _are_ cheap," he admitted regretfully. I suppose he wished he had
tried me with the half-morocco.

"They are priceless," I said, "absolutely priceless. If you were the
only man in the world who had that poem, I think I would deed you my
farm for it."

Mr. Dixon proceeded, as though it were all settled, to get out his black
order book and open it briskly for business. He drew his fountain pen,
capped it, and looked up at me expectantly. My feet actually seemed
slipping into some irresistible whirlpool. How well he understood
practical psychology! I struggled within myself, fearing engulfment: I
was all but lost.

"Shall I deliver the set at once," he said, "or can you wait until the
first of February?"

At that critical moment a floating spar of an idea swept my way and I
seized upon it as the last hope of the lost.

[Illustration: 'Did you ever see a more beautiful binding?']

"I don't understand," I said, as though I had not heard his last
question, "how you dare go about with all this treasure upon you. Are
you not afraid of being stopped in the road and robbed? Why, I've seen
the time when, if I had known you carried such things as these, such
cures for sick hearts, I think I should have stopped you myself!"

"Say, you _are_ an odd one," said Mr. Dixon.

"Why do you sell such priceless things as these?" I asked, looking at
him sharply.

"Why do I sell them?" and he looked still more perplexed. "To make
money, of course; same reason you raise corn."

"But here is wealth," I said, pursuing my advantage. "If you have these
you have something more valuable than money."

Mr. Dixon politely said nothing. Like a wise angler, having failed to
land me at the first rush, he let me have line. Then I thought of
Ruskin's words, "Nor can any noble thing be wealth except to a noble
person." And that prompted me to say to Mr. Dixon:

"These things are not yours; they are mine. You never owned them; but I
will sell them to you."

He looked at me in amazement, and then glanced around--evidently to
discover if there were a convenient way of escape.

"You're all straight, are you?" he asked tapping his forehead; "didn't
anybody ever try to take you up?"

"The covers are yours," I continued as though I had not heard him, "the
insides are mine and have been for a long time: that is why I proposed
buying the covers separately."

I opened his book again. I thought I would see what had been chosen for
its pages. And I found there many fine and great things.

"Let me read you this," I said to Mr. Dixon; "it has been mine for a
long time. I will not sell it to you. I will give it to you outright.
The best things are always given."

Having some gift in imitating the Scotch dialect, I read:

  "November chill blaws loud wi' angry sugh;
    The shortening winter day is near a close;
  The miry beasts retreating frae the pleugh;
    The black'ning trains o' craws to their repose:
  The toil-worn Cotter frae his labour goes,
    This night his weekly moil is at an end,
  Collects his spades, his mattocks and his hoes,
    Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
  And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend."

So I read "The Cotter's Saturday Night." I love the poem very much
myself, sometimes reading it aloud, not so much for the tenderness of
its message, though I prize that, too, as for the wonder of its music:

  "Compared with these, Italian trills are tame;
  The tickl'd ear no heart-felt raptures raise."

I suppose I showed my feeling in my voice. As I glanced up from time to
time I saw the agent's face change, and his look deepen and the lips,
usually so energetically tense, loosen with emotion. Surely no poem in
all the language conveys so perfectly the simple love of the home, the
quiet joys, hopes, pathos of those who live close to the soil.

When I had finished--I stopped with the stanza beginning:

  "Then homeward all take off their sev'ral way";

the agent turned away his head trying to brave out his emotion. Most of
us, Anglo-Saxons, tremble before a tear when we might fearlessly beard a
tiger.

I moved up nearer to the agent and put my hand on his knee; then I read
two or three of the other things I found in his wonderful book. And once
I had him laughing and once again I had the tears in his eyes. Oh, a
simple young man, a little crusty without, but soft inside--like the
rest of us.

Well, it was amazing once we began talking not of books but of life, how
really eloquent and human he became. From being a distant and
uncomfortable person, he became at once like a near neighbour and
friend. It was strange to me--as I have thought since--how he conveyed
to us in few words the essential emotional note of his life. It was no
violin tone, beautifully complex with harmonics, but the clear simple
voice of the flute. It spoke of his wife and his baby girl and his home.
The very incongruity of detail--he told us how he grew onions in his
back yard--added somehow to the homely glamour of the vision which he
gave us. The number of his house, the fact that he had a new cottage
organ, and that the baby ran away and lost herself in Seventeenth
Street--were all, curiously, fabrics of his emotion.

It was beautiful to see commonplace facts grow phosphorescent in the
heat of true feeling. How little we may come to know Romance by the
cloak she wears and how humble must be he who would surprise the heart
of her!

It was, indeed, with an indescribable thrill that I heard him add the
details, one by one--the mortgage on his place, now rapidly being paid
off, the brother who was a plumber, the mother-in-law who was not a
mother-in-law of the comic papers. And finally he showed us the picture
of the wife and baby that he had in the cover of his watch; a fat baby
with its head resting on its mother's shoulder.

"Mister," he said, "p'raps you think it's fun to ride around the country
like I do, and be away from home most of the time. But it ain't. When I
think of Minnie and the kid--"

He broke off sharply, as if he had suddenly remembered the shame of such
confidences.

"Say," he asked, "what page is that poem on?"

I told him.

"One forty-six," he said. "When I get home I'm going to read that to
Minnie. She likes poetry and all such things. And where's that other
piece that tells how a man feels when he's lonesome? Say, that fellow
knew!"

We had a genuinely good time, the agent and I, and when he finally rose
to go, I said:

"Well, I've sold you a new book."

"I see now, mister, what you mean."

I went down the path with him and began to unhitch his horse.

"Let me, let me," he said eagerly.

Then he shook hands, paused a moment awkwardly as if about to say
something, then sprang into his buggy without saying it.

When he had taken up his reins he remarked:

"Say! but you'd make an agent! You'd hypnotise 'em."

I recognised it as the greatest compliment he could pay me: the craft
compliment.

Then he drove off, but pulled up before he had gone five yards. He
turned in his seat, one hand on the back of it, his whip raised.

"Say!" he shouted, and when I walked up he looked at me with fine
embarrassment.

"Mister, perhaps you'd accept one of these sets from Dixon free gratis,
for nothing."

"I understand," I said, "but you know I'm giving the books to you--and I
couldn't take them back again."

"Well," he said, "you're a good one, anyhow. Good-bye again," and then,
suddenly, business naturally coming uppermost, he remarked with great
enthusiasm:

"You've given me a new idea. _Say_, I'll sell 'em."

"Carry them carefully, man," I called after him; "they are precious."

So I went back to my work, thinking how many fine people there are in
this world--if you scratch 'em deep enough.

[Illustration: "Horace 'hefted' it"]



V


THE AXE-HELVE

_April the 15th._

This morning I broke my old axe handle. I went out early while the fog
still filled the valley and the air was cool and moist as it had come
fresh from the filter of the night. I drew a long breath and let my axe
fall with all the force I could give it upon a new oak log. I swung it
unnecessarily high for the joy of doing it and when it struck it
communicated a sharp yet not unpleasant sting to the palms of my hands.
The handle broke short off at the point where the helve meets the steel.
The blade was driven deep in the oak wood. I suppose I should have
regretted my foolishness, but I did not. The handle was old and somewhat
worn, and the accident gave me an indefinable satisfaction: the
culmination of use, that final destruction which is the complement of
great effort.

This feeling was also partly prompted by the thought of the new helve I
already had in store, awaiting just such a catastrophe. Having come
somewhat painfully by that helve, I really wanted to see it in use.

Last spring, walking in my fields, I looked out along the fences for a
well-fitted young hickory tree of thrifty second growth, bare of knots
at least head high, without the cracks or fissures of too rapid growth
or the doziness of early transgression. What I desired was a fine,
healthy tree fitted for a great purpose and I looked for it as I would
look for a perfect man to save a failing cause. At last I found a
sapling growing in one of the sheltered angles of my rail fence. It was
set about by dry grass, overhung by a much larger cherry tree, and
bearing still its withered last year's leaves, worn diaphanous but
curled delicately, and of a most beautiful ash gray colour, something
like the fabric of a wasp's nest, only yellower. I gave it a shake and
it sprung quickly under my hand like the muscle of a good horse. Its
bark was smooth and trim, its bole well set and solid.

A perfect tree! So I came up again with my short axe and after clearing
away the grass and leaves with which the wind had mulched it, I cut into
the clean white roots. I had no twinge of compunction, for was this not
fulfillment? Nothing comes of sorrow for worthy sacrifice. When I had
laid the tree low, I clipped off the lower branches, snapped off the top
with a single clean stroke of the axe, and shouldered as pretty a
second-growth sapling stick as anyone ever laid his eyes upon.

I carried it down to my barn and put it on the open rafters over the cow
stalls. A cow stable is warm and not too dry, so that a hickory log
cures slowly without cracking or checking. There it lay for many weeks.
Often I cast my eyes up at it with satisfaction, watching the bark
shrink and slightly deepen in colour, and once I climbed up where I
could see the minute seams making way in the end of the stick.

In the summer I brought the stick into the house, and put it in the dry,
warm storeroom over the kitchen where I keep my seed corn. I do not
suppose it really needed further attention, but sometimes when I chanced
to go into the storeroom, I turned it over with my foot. I felt a sort
of satisfaction in knowing that it was in preparation for service: good
material for useful work. So it lay during the autumn and far into the
winter.

One cold night when I sat comfortably at my fireplace, listening to the
wind outside, and feeling all the ease of a man at peace with himself,
my mind took flight to my snowy field sides and I thought of the trees
there waiting and resting through the winter. So I came in imagination
to the particular corner in the fence where I had cut my hickory
sapling. Instantly I started up, much to Harriet's astonishment, and
made my way mysteriously up the kitchen stairs. I would not tell what I
was after: I felt it a sort of adventure, almost like the joy of seeing
a friend long forgotten. It was as if my hickory stick had cried out at
last, after long chrysalishood:

"I am ready."

I stood it on end and struck it sharply with my knuckles: it rang out
with a certain clear resonance.

"I am ready."

I sniffed at the end of it. It exhaled a peculiar good smell, as of old
fields in the autumn.

"I am ready."

So I took it under my arm and carried it down.

"Mercy, what are you going to do?" exclaimed Harriet.

"Deliberately, and with malice aforethought," I responded, "I am going
to litter up your floor. I have decided to be reckless. I don't care
what happens."

Having made this declaration, which Harriet received with becoming
disdain, I laid the log by the fireplace--not too near--and went to
fetch a saw, a hammer, a small wedge, and a draw-shave.

I split my log into as fine white sections as a man ever saw--every
piece as straight as morality, and without so much as a sliver to mar
it. Nothing is so satisfactory as to have a task come out in perfect
time and in good order. The little pieces of bark and sawdust I swept
scrupulously into the fireplace, looking up from time to time to see how
Harriet was taking it. Harriet was still disdainful.

Making an axe-helve is like writing a poem (though I never wrote one).
The material is free enough, but it takes a poet to use it. Some people
imagine that any fine thought is poetry, but there was never a greater
mistake. A fine thought, to become poetry, must be seasoned in the upper
warm garrets of the mind for long and long, then it must be brought down
and slowly carved into words, shaped with emotion, polished with love.
Else it is no true poem. Some people imagine that any hickory stick will
make an axe-helve. But this is far from the truth. When I had whittled
away for several evenings with my draw-shave and jack-knife, both of
which I keep sharpened to the keenest edge, I found that my work was not
progressing as well as I had hoped.

"This is more of a task," I remarked one evening, "than I had imagined."

Harriet, rocking placidly in her arm-chair, was mending a number of
pairs of new socks, Poor Harriet! Lacking enough old holes to occupy her
energies, she mends holes that may possibly appear. A frugal person!

"Well, David," she said, "I warned you that you could buy a helve
cheaper than you could make it."

"So I can buy a book cheaper than I can write it," I responded.

I felt somewhat pleased with my return shot, though I took pains not to
show it. I squinted along my hickory stick which was even then beginning
to assume, rudely, the outlines of an axe-handle. I had made a
prodigious pile of fine white shavings and I was tired, but quite
suddenly there came over me a sort of love for that length of wood. I
sprung it affectionately over my knee, I rubbed it up and down with my
hand, and then I set it in the corner behind the fireplace.

"After all," I said, for I had really been disturbed by Harriet's
remark--"after all, power over one thing gives us power over everything.
When you mend socks prospectively--into futurity--Harriet, that is an
evidence of true greatness."

"Sometimes I think it doesn't pay," remarked Harriet, though she was
plainly pleased.

"Pretty good socks," I said, "can be bought for fifteen cents a pair."

Harriet looked at me suspiciously, but I was as sober as the face of
nature.

For the next two or three evenings I let the axe-helve stand alone in
the corner. I hardly looked at it, though once in a while, when occupied
with some other work, I would remember, or rather half remember, that I
had a pleasure in store for the evening. The very thought of sharp tools
and something, to make with them acts upon the imagination with peculiar
zest. So we love to employ the keen edge of the mind upon a knotty and
difficult subject.

One evening the Scotch preacher came in. We love him very much, though
he sometimes makes us laugh--perhaps, in part, because he makes us
laugh. Externally he is a sort of human cocoanut, rough, brown, shaggy,
but within he has the true milk of human kindness. Some of his qualities
touch greatness. His youth was spent in stony places where strong winds
blew; the trees where he grew bore thorns; the soil where he dug was
full of roots. But the crop was human love. He possesses that quality,
unusual in one bred exclusively in the country, of magnanimity toward
the unlike. In the country we are tempted to throw stones at strange
hats! But to the Scotch preacher every man in one way seems transparent
to the soul. He sees the man himself, not his professions any more than
his clothes. And I never knew anyone who had such an abiding disbelief
in the wickedness of the human soul. Weakness he sees and comforts;
wickedness he cannot see.

When he came in I was busy whittling my axe-helve, it being my pleasure
at that moment to make long, thin, curly shavings so light that many of
them were caught on the hearth and bowled by the draught straight to
fiery destruction.

There is a noisy zest about the Scotch preacher: he comes in "stomping"
as we say, he must clear his throat, he must strike his hands together;
he even seems noisy when he unwinds the thick red tippet which he wears
wound many times around his neck. It takes him a long time to unwind it,
and he accomplishes the task with many slow gyrations of his enormous
rough head. When he sits down he takes merely the edge of the chair,
spreads his stout legs apart, sits as straight as a post, and blows his
nose with a noise like the falling of a tree.

His interest in everything is prodigious. When he saw what I was doing
he launched at once upon an account of the methods of axe-helving,
ancient and modern, with true incidents of his childhood.

"Man," he exclaimed, "you've clean forgotten one of the preenciple
refinements of the art. When you chop, which hand do you hold down?"

At the moment, I couldn't have told "to save my life, so we both got up
on our feet and tried.

"It's the right hand down," I decided; "that's natural to me."

"You're a normal right-handed chopper, then," said the Scotch preacher,
"as I was thinking. Now let me instruct you in the art. Being
right-handed, your helve must bow out--so. No first-class chopper uses a
straight handle."

He fell to explaining, with gusto, the mysteries of the bowed handle,
and as I listened I felt a new and peculiar interest in my task This
was a final perfection to be accomplished, the finality of technique!

So we sat with our heads together talking helves and axes, axes with
single blades and axes with double blades, and hand axes and great
choppers' axes, and the science of felling trees, with the true
philosophy of the last chip, and arguments as to the best procedure when
a log begins to "pinch"--until a listener would have thought that the
art of the chopper included the whole philosophy of existence--as indeed
it does, if you look at it in that way. Finally I rushed out and brought
in my old axe-handle, and we set upon it like true artists, with
critical proscription for being a trivial product of machinery.

"Man," exclaimed the preacher, "it has no character. Now your helve
here, being the vision of your brain and work of your hands, will
interpret the thought of your heart."

Before the Scotch preacher had finished his disquisition upon the art of
helve-making and its relations with all other arts, I felt like Peary
discovering the Pole.

In the midst of the discourse, while I was soaring high, the Scotch
preacher suddenly stopped, sat up, and struck his knee with a tremendous
resounding smack.

"Spoons!" he exclaimed.

Harriet and I stopped and looked at him in astonishment.

"Spoons," repeated Harriet.

"Spoons," said the Scotch preacher. "I've not once thought of my errand;
and my wife told me to come straight home. I'm more thoughtless every
day!"

Then he turned to Harriet:

"I've been sent to borrow some spoons," he said.

"Spoons!" exclaimed Harriet.

"Spoons," answered the Scotch preacher. "We've invited friends for
dinner to-morrow, and we must have spoons."

"But why--how--I thought--" began Harriet, still in astonishment.

The Scotch preacher squared around toward her and cleared his throat.

"It's the baptisms," he said: "when a baby is brought for baptism, of
course it must have a baptismal gift. What is the best gift for a baby?
A spoon. So we present it with a spoon. To-day we discovered we had only
three spoons left, and company coming. Man, 'tis a proleefic
neighbourhood."

[Illustration: "LET MY AXE FALL"]

He heaved a great sigh.

Harriet rushed out and made up a package. When she came in I thought it
seemed suspiciously large for spoons, but the Scotch preacher having
again launched into the lore of the chopper, took it without at first
perceiving anything strange. Five minutes after we had closed the door
upon him he suddenly returned holding up the package.

"This is an uncommonly heavy package," he remarked; "did I say
table-spoons?"

"Go on!" commanded Harriet; "your wife will understand."

"All right--good-bye again," and his sturdy figure soon disappeared in
the dark.

"The impractical man!" exclaimed Harriet. "People impose on him."

"What was in that package, Harriet?"

"Oh, I put in a few jars of jelly and a cake of honey."

After a moment Harriet looked up from her work.

"Do you know the greatest sorrow of the Scotch preacher and his wife?"

"What is it?" I asked.

"They have no chick nor child of their own," said Harriet.

It is prodigious, the amount of work required to make a good
axe-helve--I mean to make it according to one's standard. I had times of
humorous discouragement and times of high elation when it seemed to me I
could not work fast enough. Weeks passed when I did not touch the helve
but left it standing quietly in the corner. Once or twice I took it out
and walked about with it as a sort of cane, much to the secret
amusement, I think, of Harriet. At times Harriet takes a really wicked
delight in her superiority.

Early one morning in March the dawn came with a roaring wind, sleety
snow drove down over the hill, the house creaked and complained in every
clapboard. A blind of one of the upper windows, wrenched loose from its
fastenings, was driven shut with such force that it broke a window pane.
When I rushed up to discover the meaning of the clatter and to repair
the damage, I found the floor covered with peculiar long fragments of
glass--the pane having been broken inward from the centre.

"Just what I have wanted," I said to myself.

I selected a few of the best pieces and so eager was I to try them that
I got out my axe-helve before breakfast and sat scratching away when
Harriet came down.

Nothing equals a bit of broken glass for putting on the final perfect
touch to a work of art like an axe-helve. Nothing will so beautifully
and delicately trim out the curves of the throat or give a smoother turn
to the waist. So with care and an indescribable affection, I added the
final touches, trimming the helve until it exactly fitted my hand. Often
and often I tried it in pantomime, swinging nobly in the centre of the
sitting-room (avoiding the lamp), attentive to the feel of my hand as it
ran along the helve. I rubbed it down with fine sandpaper until it
fairly shone with whiteness. Then I borrowed a red flannel cloth of
Harriet and having added a few drops--not too much--of boiled oil, I
rubbed the helve for all I was worth. This I continued for upward of an
hour. At that time the axe-helve had taken on a yellowish shade, very
clear and beautiful.

I do not think I could have been prouder if I had carved a statue or
built a parthenon. I was consumed with vanity; but I set the new helve
in the corner with the appearance of utter unconcern.

"There," I remarked, "it's finished."

I watched Harriet out of the corner of my eye: she made as if to speak
and then held silent.

That evening friend Horace came in. I was glad to see him. Horace is or
was a famous chopper. I placed him at the fireplace where his eye,
sooner or later, must fall upon my axe-helve. Oh, I worked out my
designs! Presently he saw the helve, picked it up at once and turned it
over in his hands. I had a suffocating, not unhumorous, sense of
self-consciousness. I know how a poet must feel at hearing his first
poem read aloud by some other person who does not know its authorship. I
suffer and thrill with the novelist who sees a stranger purchase his
book in a book-shop. I felt as though I stood that moment before the
Great Judge.

Horace "hefted" it and balanced it, and squinted along it; he rubbed it
with his thumb, he rested one end of it on the floor and sprung it
roughly.

"David," he said severely, "where did you git this?"

Once when I was a boy I came home with my hair wet. My father asked:

"David, have you been swimming?"

I had exactly the same feeling when Horace asked his question. Now I am,
generally speaking, a truthful man. I have written a good deal about the
immorality, the unwisdom, the short-sightedness, the sinful wastefulness
of a lie. But at that moment, if Harriet had not been present--and that
illustrates one of the purposes of society, to bolster up a man's
morals--I should have evolved as large and perfect a prevarication as it
lay within me to do--cheerfully. But I felt Harriet's moral eye upon me:
I was a coward as well as a sinner. I faltered so long that Horace
finally looked around at me.

Horace has no poetry in his soul, neither does he understand the
philosophy of imperfection nor the art of irregularity.

It is a tender shoot, easily blasted by cold winds, the creative
instinct: but persistent. It has many adventitious buds. A late frost
destroying the freshness of its early verdure, may be the means of a
richer growth in later and more favourable days.

       *       *       *       *       *

For a week I left my helve standing there in the corner. I did not even
look at it. I was slain. I even thought of getting up in the night and
putting the helve on the coals--secretly. Then, suddenly, one morning, I
took it up not at all tenderly, indeed with a humorous appreciation of
my own absurdities, and carried it out into the yard. An axe-helve is
not a mere ornament but a thing of sober purpose. The test, after all,
of axe-helves is not sublime perfection, but service. We may easily find
flaws in the verse of the master--how far the rhythm fails of the final
perfect music, how often uncertain the rhyme--but it bears within it,
hidden yet evident, that certain incalculable fire which kindles and
will continue to kindle the souls of men. The final test is not the
perfection of precedent, not regularity, but life, spirit.

It was one of those perfect, sunny, calm mornings that sometimes come in
early April: the zest of winter yet in the air, but a promise of summer.

I built a fire of oak chips in the middle of the yard, between two flat
stones. I brought out my old axe, and when the fire had burned down
somewhat, leaving a foundation of hot coals, I thrust the eye of the axe
into the fire. The blade rested on one of the flat stones, and I kept it
covered with wet rags in order that it might not heat sufficiently to
destroy the temper of the steel. Harriet's old gray hen, a garrulous
fowl, came and stood on one leg and looked at me first with one eye and
then with the other. She asked innumerable impertinent questions and was
generally disagreeable.

"I am sorry, madam," I said finally, "but I have grown adamant to
criticism. I have done my work as well as it lies in me to do it. It is
the part of sanity to throw it aside without compunction. A work must
prove itself. Shoo!"

I said this with such conclusiveness and vigour that the critical old
hen departed hastily with ruffled feathers.

So I sat there in the glorious perfection of the forenoon, the great day
open around me, a few small clouds abroad in the highest sky, and all
the earth radiant with sunshine. The last snow of winter was gone, the
sap ran in the trees, the cows fed further afield.

When the eye of the axe was sufficiently expanded by the heat I drew it
quickly from the fire and drove home the helve which I had already
whittled down to the exact size. I had a hickory wedge prepared, and it
was the work of ten seconds to drive it into the cleft at the lower end
of the helve until the eye of the axe was completely and perfectly
filled. Upon cooling the steel shrunk upon the wood, clasping it with
such firmness that nothing short of fire could ever dislodge it. Then,
carefully, with knife and sandpaper I polished off the wood around the
steel of the axe until I had made as good a job of it as lay within my
power.

So I carried the axe to my log-pile. I swung it above my head and the
feel of it was good in my hands. The blade struck deep into the oak
wood. And I said to myself with satisfaction:

"It serves the purpose."



VI


THE MARSH DITCH

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy and life
emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-smelling herbs--is more
elastic, more starry, more immortal--that is your Success."


In all the days of my life I have never been so well content as I am
this spring. Last summer I thought I was happy, the fall gave me a
finality of satisfaction, the winter imparted perspective, but spring
conveys a wholly new sense of life, a quickening the like of which I
never before experienced. It seems to me that everything in the world is
more interesting, more vital, more significant. I feel like "waving
aside all roofs," in the way of Le Sage's Asmodeus.

I even cease to fear Mrs. Horace, who is quite the most formidable
person in this neighbourhood. She is so avaricious in the saving of
souls--and so covetous of mine, which I wish especially to retain. When
I see her coming across the hill I feel like running and hiding, and if
I were as bold as a boy, I should do it, but being a grown-up coward I
remain and dissemble.

She came over this morning. When I beheld her afar off, I drew a long
breath: "One thousand," I quoted to myself, "shall flee at the rebuke of
one."

In calmness I waited. She came with colours flying and hurled her
biblical lance. When I withstood the shock with unexpected jauntiness,
for I usually fall dead at once, she looked at me with severity and
said:

"Mr. Grayson, you are a materialist."

"You have shot me with a name," I replied. "I am unhurt."

It would be impossible to slay me on a day like this. On a day like
this I am immortal.

It comes to me as the wonder of wonders, these spring days, how surely
everything, spiritual as well as material, proceeds out of the earth. I
have times of sheer Paganism when I could bow and touch my face to the
warm bare soil. We are so often ashamed of the Earth--the soil of it,
the sweat of it, the good common coarseness of it. To us in our fine
raiment and soft manners, it seems indelicate. Instead of seeking that
association with the earth which is the renewal of life, we devise
ourselves distant palaces and seek strange pleasures. How often and
sadly we repeat the life story of the yellow dodder of the moist lanes
of my lower farm. It springs up fresh and clean from the earth itself,
and spreads its clinging viny stems over the hospitable wild balsam and
golden rod. In a week's time, having reached the warm sunshine of the
upper air, it forgets its humble beginnings. Its roots wither swiftly
and die out, but the sickly yellow stems continue to flourish and
spread, drawing their nourishment not from the soil itself, but by
strangling and sucking the life juices of the hosts on which it feeds.
I have seen whole byways covered thus with yellow dodder--rootless,
leafless, parasitic--reaching up to the sunlight, quite cutting off and
smothering the plants which gave it life. A week or two it flourishes
and then most of it perishes miserably. So many of us come to be like
that: so much of our civilization is like that. Men and women there
are--the pity of it--who, eating plentifully, have never themselves
taken a mouthful from the earth. They have never known a moment's real
life of their own. Lying up to the sun in warmth and comfort--but
leafless--they do not think of the hosts under them, smothered,
strangled, starved. They take _nothing_ at first hand. They experience
described emotion, and think prepared thoughts. They live not in life,
but in printed reports of life. They gather the odour of odours, not the
odour itself: they do not hear, they overhear. A poor, sad, second-rate
existence!

Bring out your social remedies! They will fail, they will fail, every
one, until each man has his feet somewhere upon the soil!

My wild plum trees grow in the coarse earth, among excrementitious
mould, a physical life which finally blossoms and exhales its perfect
odour: which ultimately bears the seed of its immortality.

Human happiness is the true odour of growth, the sweet exhalation of
work: and the seed of human immortality is borne secretly within the
coarse and mortal husk. So many of us crave the odour without
cultivating the earthly growth from which it proceeds: so many, wasting
mortality, expect immortality!

----"Why," asks Charles Baxter, "do you always put the end of your
stories first?"

"You may be thankful," I replied, "that I do not make my remarks all
endings. Endings are so much more interesting than beginnings."

Without looking up from the buggy he was mending, Charles Baxter
intimated that my way had at least one advantage: one always knew, he
said, that I really had an end in view--and hope deferred, he said----

----How surely, soundly, deeply, the physical underlies the spiritual.
This morning I was up and out at half-past four, as perfect a morning as
I ever saw: mists yet huddled in the low spots, the sun coming up over
the hill, and all the earth fresh with moisture, sweet with good
odours, and musical with early bird-notes.

It is the time of the spring just after the last seeding and before the
early haying: a catch-breath in the farmer's year. I have been utilising
it in digging a drainage ditch at the lower end of my farm. A spot of
marsh grass and blue flags occupies nearly half an acre of good land and
I have been planning ever since I bought the place to open a drain from
its lower edge to the creek, supplementing it in the field above, if
necessary, with submerged tiling. I surveyed it carefully several weeks
ago and drew plans and contours of the work as though it were an
inter-oceanic canal. I find it a real delight to work out in the earth
itself the details of the drawing.

This morning, after hastening with the chores, I took my bag and my
spade on my shoulder and set off (in rubber boots) for the ditch. My way
lay along the margin of my cornfield in the deep grass. On my right as I
walked was the old rail fence full of thrifty young hickory and cherry
trees with here and there a clump of blackberry bushes. The trees
beyond the fence cut off the sunrise so that I walked in the cool broad
shadows. On my left stretched the cornfield of my planting, the young
corn well up, very attractive and hopeful, my really frightful scarecrow
standing guard on the knoll, a wisp of straw sticking up through a hole
in his hat and his crooked thumbs turned down--"No mercy."

"Surely no corn ever before grew like this," I said to myself.
"To-morrow I must begin cultivating again."

So I looked up and about me--not to miss anything of the morning--and I
drew in a good big breath and I thought the world had never been so open
to my senses.

I wonder why it is that the sense of smell is so commonly
under-regarded. To me it is the source of some of my greatest pleasures.
No one of the senses is more often allied with robustity of physical
health. A man who smells acutely may be set down as enjoying that which
is normal, plain, wholesome. He does not require seasoning: the ordinary
earth is good enough for him. He is likely to be sane--which means
sound, healthy--in his outlook upon life.

Of all hours of the day there is none like the early morning for
downright good odours--the morning before eating. Fresh from sleep and
unclogged with food a man's senses cut like knives. The whole world
comes in upon him. A still morning is best, for the mists and the
moisture seem to retain the odours which they have distilled through the
night. Upon a breezy morning one is likely to get a single predominant
odour as of clover when the wind blows across a hay field or of apple
blossoms when the wind comes through the orchard, but upon a perfectly
still morning, it is wonderful how the odours arrange themselves in
upright strata, so that one walking passes through them as from room to
room in a marvellous temple of fragrance, (I should have said, I think,
if I had not been on my way to dig a ditch, that it was like turning the
leaves of some delicate volume of lyrics!)

So it was this morning. As I walked along the margin of my field I was
conscious, at first, coming within the shadows of the wood, of the cool,
heavy aroma which one associates with the night: as of moist woods and
earth mould. The penetrating scent of the night remains long after the
sights and sounds of it have disappeared. In sunny spots I had the
fragrance of the open cornfield, the aromatic breath of the brown earth,
giving curiously the sense of fecundity--a warm, generous odour of
daylight and sunshine. Down the field, toward the corner, cutting in
sharply, as though a door opened (or a page turned to another lyric),
came the cloying, sweet fragrance of wild crab-apple blossoms, almost
tropical in their richness, and below that, as I came to my work, the
thin acrid smell of the marsh, the place of the rushes and the flags and
the frogs.

How few of us really use our senses! I mean give ourselves fully at any
time to the occupation of the senses. We do not expect to understand a
treatise on Economics without applying our minds to it, nor can we
really smell or hear or see or feel without every faculty alert. Through
sheer indolence we miss half the joy of the world!

Often as I work I stop to see: really see: see everything, or to listen,
and it is the wonder of wonders, how much there is in this old world
which we never dreamed of, how many beautiful, curious, interesting
sights and sounds there are which ordinarily make no impression upon our
clogged, overfed and preoccupied minds. I have also had the feeling--it
may be unscientific but it is comforting--that any man might see like an
Indian or smell like a hound if he gave to the senses the brains which
the Indian and the hound apply to them. And I'm pretty sure about the
Indian! It is marvellous what a man can do when he puts his entire mind
upon one faculty and bears down hard.

So I walked this morning, not hearing nor seeing, but smelling. Without
desiring to stir up strife among the peaceful senses, there is this
further marvel of the sense of smell. No other possesses such an
after-call. Sight preserves pictures: the complete view of the aspect of
objects, but it is photographic and external. Hearing deals in echoes,
but the sense of smell, while saving no vision of a place or a person,
will re-create in a way almost miraculous the inner _emotion_ of a
particular time or place. I know of nothing that will so "create an
appetite under the ribs of death."

Only a short time ago I passed an open doorway in the town. I was busy
with errands, my mind fully engaged, but suddenly I caught an odour from
somewhere within the building I was passing. I stopped! It was as if in
that moment I lost twenty years of my life: I was a boy again, living
and feeling a particular instant at the time of my father's death. Every
emotion of that occasion, not recalled in years, returned to me sharply
and clearly as though I experienced it for the first time. It was a
peculiar emotion: the first time I had ever felt the oppression of
space--can I describe it?--the utter bigness of the world and the
aloofness of myself, a little boy, within it--now that my father was
gone. It was not at that moment sorrow, nor remorse, nor love: it was an
inexpressible cold terror--that anywhere I might go in the world, I
should still be alone!

And there I stood, a man grown, shaking in the sunshine with that old
boyish emotion brought back to me by an odour! Often and often have I
known this strange rekindling of dead fires. And I have thought how, if
our senses were really perfect, we might lose nothing, out of our lives:
neither sights, nor sounds, nor emotions: a sort of mortal immortality.
Was not Shakespeare great because he lost less of the savings of his
senses than other men? What a wonderful seer, hearer, smeller, taster,
feeler, he must have been--and how, all the time, his mind must have
played upon the gatherings of his senses! All scenes, all men, the very
turn of a head, the exact sound of a voice, the taste of food, the feel
of the world--all the emotions of his life must he have had there before
him as he wrote, his great mind playing upon them, reconstructing,
re-creating and putting them down hot upon his pages. There is nothing
strange about great men; they are like us, only deeper, higher, broader:
they think as we do, but with more intensity: they suffer as we do, more
keenly: they love as we do, more tenderly.

I may be over-glorifying the sense of smell, but it is only because I
walked this morning in a world of odours. The greatest of the senses, of
course, is not smell or hearing, but sight. What would not any man
exchange for that: for the faces one loves, for the scenes one holds
most dear, for all that is beautiful and changeable and beyond
description? The Scotch Preacher says that the saddest lines in all
literature are those of Milton, writing of his blindness.

"Seasons return; but not to me returns
Day, or the sweet approach of even or morn,
Or sight of vernal bloom or Summer's rose,
Or flocks, or herds, or human face divine."

--I have wandered a long way from ditch-digging, but not wholly without
intention. Sooner or later I try to get back into the main road. I throw
down my spade in the wet trampled grass at the edge of the ditch. I take
off my coat and hang it over a limb of the little hawthorn tree. I put
my bag near it. I roll up the sleeves of my flannel shirt: I give my hat
a twirl; I'm ready for work.

--The senses are the tools by which we lay hold upon the world: they are
the implements of consciousness and growth. So long as they are used
upon the good earth--used to wholesome weariness--they remain healthy,
they yield enjoyment, they nourish growth; but let them once be removed
from their natural employment and they turn and feed upon themselves,
they seek the stimulation of luxury, they wallow in their own
corruption, and finally, worn out, perish from off the earth which they
have not appreciated. Vice is ever the senses gone astray.

--So I dug. There is something fine in hard physical labour, straight
ahead: no brain used, just muscles. I stood ankle-deep in the cool
water: every spadeful came out with a smack, and as I turned it over at
the edge of the ditch small turgid rivulets coursed back again. I did
not think of anything in particular. I dug. A peculiar joy attends the
very pull of the muscles. I drove the spade home with one foot, then I
bent and lifted and turned with a sort of physical satisfaction
difficult to describe. At first I had the cool of the morning, but by
seven o'clock the day was hot enough! I opened the breast of my shirt,
gave my sleeves another roll, and went at it again for half an hour,
until I dripped with perspiration.

"I will knock off," I said, so I used my spade as a ladder and climbed
out of the ditch. Being very thirsty, I walked down through the marshy
valley to the clump of alders which grows along the creek. I followed a
cow-path through the thicket and came to the creek side, where I knelt
on a log and took a good long drink. Then I soused my head in the cool
stream, dashed the water upon my arms and came up dripping and gasping!
Oh, but it was fine!

So I came back to the hawthorn tree, where I sat down comfortably and
stretched my legs. There is a poem in stretched legs--after hard
digging--but I can't write it, though I can feel it! I got my bag and
took out a half loaf of Harriet's bread. Breaking off big crude pieces,
I ate it there in the shade. How rarely we taste the real taste of
bread! We disguise it with butter, we toast it, we eat it with milk or
fruit. We even soak it with gravy (here in the country where we aren't
at all polite--but very comfortable), so that we never get the downright
delicious taste of the bread itself. I was hungry this morning and I ate
my half loaf to the last crumb--and wanted more. Then I lay down for a
moment in the shade and looked up into the sky through the thin outer
branches of the hawthorn. A turkey buzzard was lazily circling
cloud-high above me: a frog boomed intermittently from the little marsh,
and there were bees at work in the blossoms.

--I had another drink at the creek and went back somewhat reluctantly,
I confess, to the work. It was hot, and the first joy of effort had worn
off. But the ditch was to be dug and I went at it again. One becomes a
sort of machine--unthinking, mechanical: and yet intense physical work,
though making no immediate impression on the mind, often lingers in the
consciousness. I find that sometimes I can remember and enjoy for long
afterward every separate step in a task.

It is curious, hard physical labour! One actually stops thinking. I
often work long without any thought whatever, so far as I know, save
that connected with the monotonous repetition of the labour itself--down
with the spade, out with it, up with it, over with it--and repeat. And
yet sometimes--mostly in the forenoon when I am not at all tired--I will
suddenly have a sense as of the world opening around me--a sense of its
beauty and its meanings--giving me a peculiar deep happiness, that is
near complete content--

Happiness, I have discovered, is nearly always a rebound from hard work.
It is one of the follies of men to imagine that they can enjoy mere
thought, or emotion, or sentiment! As well try to eat beauty! For
happiness must be tricked! She loves to see men at work. She loves
sweat, weariness, self-sacrifice. She will be found not in palaces but
lurking in cornfields and factories and hovering over littered desks:
she crowns the unconscious head of the busy child. If you look up
suddenly from hard work you will see her, but if you look too long she
fades sorrowfully away.

--Down toward the town there is a little factory for barrel hoops and
staves. It has one of the most musical whistles I ever heard in my life.
It toots at exactly twelve o'clock: blessed sound! The last half-hour at
ditch-digging is a hard, slow pull. I'm warm and tired, but I stick down
to it and wait with straining ear for the music. At the very first note,
of that whistle I drop my spade. I will even empty out a load of dirt
half way up rather than expend another ounce of energy; and I spring out
of the ditch and start for home with a single desire in my heart--or
possibly lower down. And Harriet, standing in the doorway, seems to me
a sort of angel--a culinary angel!

Talk of joy: there may be things better than beef stew and baked
potatoes and home-made bread--there may be--



VII


AN ARGUMENT WITH A MILLIONNAIRE

  "Let the mighty and great
  Roll in splendour and state,
  I envy them not, I declare it.
  I eat my own lamb,
  My own chicken and ham,
  I shear my own sheep and wear it.

  I have lawns, I have bowers,
  I have fruits, I have flowers.
  The lark is my morning charmer;
  So you jolly dogs now,
  Here's God bless the plow--
  Long life and content to the farmer."

----_Rhyme on an old pitcher of English pottery_.

I have been hearing of John Starkweather ever since I came here. He is a
most important personage in this community. He is rich. Horace
especially loved to talk about him. Give Horace half a chance, whether
the subject be pigs or churches, and he will break in somewhere with the
remark: "As I was saying to Mr. Starkweather--" or, "Mr. Starkweather
says to me--" How we love to shine by reflected glory! Even Harriet has
not gone unscathed; she, too, has been affected by the bacillus of
admiration. She has wanted to know several times if I saw John
Starkweather drive by: "the finest span of horses in this country," she
says, and "_did_ you see his daughter?" Much other information
concerning the Starkweather household, culinary and otherwise, is
current among our hills. We know accurately the number of Mr.
Starkweather's bedrooms, we can tell how much coal he uses in winter and
how many tons of ice in summer, and upon such important premises we
argue his riches.

Several times I have passed John Starkweather's home. It lies between my
farm and the town, though not on the direct road, and it is really
beautiful with the groomed and guided beauty possible to wealth. A
stately old house with a huge end chimney of red brick stands with
dignity well back from the road; round about lie pleasant lawns that
once were cornfields: and there are drives and walks and exotic shrubs.
At first, loving my own hills so well, I was puzzled to understand why I
should also enjoy Starkweather's groomed surroundings. But it came to me
that after all, much as we may love wildness, we are not wild, nor our
works. What more artificial than a house, or a barn, or a fence? And the
greater and more formal the house, the more formal indeed must be the
nearer natural environments. Perhaps the hand of man might well have
been less evident in developing the surroundings of the Starkweather
home--for art, dealing with nature, is so often too accomplished!

But I enjoy the Starkweather place and as I look in from the road, I
sometimes think to myself with satisfaction: "Here is this rich man who
has paid his thousands to make the beauty which I pass and take for
nothing--and having taken, leave as much behind." And I wonder sometimes
whether he, inside his fences, gets more joy of it than I, who walk the
roads outside. Anyway, I am grateful to him for using his riches so much
to my advantage.

On fine mornings John Starkweather sometimes comes out in his slippers,
bare-headed, his white vest gleaming in the sunshine, and walks slowly
around his garden. Charles Baxter says that on these occasions he is
asking his gardener the names of the vegetables. However that may be, he
has seemed to our community the very incarnation of contentment and
prosperity--his position the acme of desirability.

What was my astonishment, then, the other morning to see John
Starkweather coming down the pasture lane through my farm. I knew him
afar off, though I had never met him. May I express the inexpressible
when I say he had a rich look; he walked rich, there was richness in the
confident crook of his elbow, and in the positive twitch of the stick he
carried: a man accustomed to having doors opened before he knocked. I
stood there a moment and looked up the hill at him, and I felt that
profound curiosity which every one of us feels every day of his life to
know something of the inner impulses which stir his nearest neighbour. I
should have liked to know John Starkweather; but I thought to myself as
I have thought so many times how surely one comes finally to imitate his
surroundings. A farmer grows to be a part of his farm; the sawdust on
his coat is not the most distinctive insignia of the carpenter; the poet
writes his truest lines upon his own countenance. People passing in my
road take me to be a part of this natural scene. I suppose I seem to
them as a partridge squatting among dry grass and leaves, so like the
grass and leaves as to be invisible. We all come to be marked upon by
nature and dismissed--how carelessly!--as genera or species. And is it
not the primal struggle of man to escape classification, to form new
differentiations?

Sometimes--I confess it--when I see one passing in my road, I feel like
hailing him and saying:

"Friend, I am not all farmer. I, too, am a person; I am different and
curious. I am full of red blood, I like people, all sorts of people; if
you are not interested in me, at least I am intensely interested in you.
Come over now and let's talk!"

So we are all of us calling and calling across the incalculable gulfs
which separate us even from our nearest friends!

Once or twice this feeling has been so real to me that I've been near
to the point of hailing utter strangers--only to be instantly overcome
with a sense of the humorous absurdity of such an enterprise. So I laugh
it off and I say to myself:

"Steady now: the man is going to town to sell a pig; he is coming back
with ten pounds of sugar, five of salt pork, a can of coffee and some
new blades for his mowing machine. He hasn't time for talk"--and so I
come down with a bump to my digging, or hoeing, or chopping, or whatever
it is.

----Here I've left John Starkweather in my pasture while I remark to
the extent of a page or two that I didn't expect him to see me when he
went by.

I assumed that he was out for a walk, perhaps to enliven a worn appetite
(do you know, confidentially, I've had some pleasure in times past in
reflecting upon the jaded appetites of millionnaires!), and that he
would pass out by my lane to the country road; but instead of that, what
should he do but climb the yard fence and walk over toward the barn
where I was at work.

Perhaps I was not consumed with excitement: here was fresh adventure!

"A farmer," I said to myself with exultation, "has only to wait long
enough and all the world comes his way."

I had just begun to grease my farm wagon and was experiencing some
difficulty in lifting and steadying the heavy rear axle while I took off
the wheel. I kept busily at work, pretending (such is the perversity of
the human mind) that I did not see Mr. Starkweather. He stood for a
moment watching me; then he said:

"Good morning, sir."

I looked up and said:

"Oh, good morning!"

"Nice little farm you have here."

"It's enough for me," I replied. I did not especially like the "little."
One is human.

Then I had an absurd inspiration: he stood there so trim and jaunty and
prosperous. So rich! I had a good look at him. He was dressed in a
woollen jacket coat, knee-trousers and leggins; on his head he wore a
jaunty, cocky little Scotch cap; a man, I should judge, about fifty
years old, well-fed and hearty in appearance, with grayish hair and a
good-humoured eye. I acted on my inspiration:

"You've arrived," I said, "at the psychological moment."

"How's that?"

"Take hold here and help me lift this axle and steady it. I'm having a
hard time of it."

The look of astonishment in his countenance was beautiful to see.

For a moment failure stared me in the face. His expression said with
emphasis: "Perhaps you don't know who I am." But I looked at him with
the greatest good feeling and my expression said, or I meant it to say:
"To be sure I don't: and what difference does it make, anyway!"

"You take hold there," I said, without waiting for him to catch his
breath, "and I'll get hold here. Together we can easily get the wheel
off."

Without a word he set his cane against the barn and bent his back, up
came the axle and I propped it with a board.

"Now," I said, "you hang on there and steady it while I get the wheel
off"--though, indeed, it didn't really need much steadying.

As I straightened up, whom should I see but Harriet standing transfixed
in the pathway half way down to the barn, transfixed with horror. She
had recognised John Starkweather and had heard at least part of what I
said to him, and the vision of that important man bending his back to
help lift the axle of my old wagon was too terrible! She caught my eye
and pointed and mouthed. When I smiled and nodded, John Starkweather
straightened up and looked around.

"Don't, on your life," I warned, "let go of that axle."

He held on and Harriet turned and retreated ingloriously. John
Starkweather's face was a study!

"Did you ever grease a wagon?" I asked him genially.

"Never," he said.

"There's more of an art in it than you think," I said, and as I worked I
talked to him of the lore of axle-grease and showed him exactly how to
put it on--neither too much nor too little, and so that it would
distribute itself evenly when the wheel was replaced.

"There's a right way of doing everything," I observed.

"That's so," said John Starkweather: "if I could only get workmen that
believed it."

By that time I could see that he was beginning to be interested. I put
back the wheel, gave it a light turn and screwed on the nut. He helped
me with the other end of the axle with all good humour.

"Perhaps," I said, as engagingly as I knew how, "you'd like to try the
art yourself? You take the grease this time and I'll steady the wagon."

"All right!" he said, laughing, "I'm in for anything."

He took the grease box and the paddle--less gingerly than I thought he
would.

"Is that right?" he demanded, and so he put on the grease. And oh, it
was good to see Harriet in the doorway!

"Steady there," I said, "not so much at the end: now put the box down on
the reach."

And so together we greased the wagon, talking all the time in the
friendliest way. I actually believe that he was having a pretty good
time. At least it had the virtue of unexpectedness. He wasn't bored!

When he had finished we both straightened our backs and looked at each
other. There was a twinkle in his eye: then we both laughed. "He's all
right," I said to myself. I held up my hands, then he held up his: it
was hardly necessary to prove that wagon-greasing was not a delicate
operation.

"It's a good wholesome sign," I said, "but it'll come off. Do you happen
to remember a story of Tolstoi's called Ivan the Fool'?"

("What is a farmer doing quoting Tolstoi!" remarked his
countenance--though he said not a word.)

"In the kingdom of Ivan, you remember," I said, "it was the rule that
whoever had hard places on his hands came to table, but whoever had not
must eat what the others left."

Thus I led him up to the back steps and poured him a basin of hot
water--which I brought myself from the kitchen, Harriet having
marvellously and completely disappeared. We both washed our hands,
talking with great good humour.

When we had finished I said:

"Sit down, friend, if you've time, and let's talk."

So he sat down on one of the logs of my woodpile: a solid sort of man,
rather warm after his recent activities. He looked me over with some
interest and, I thought, friendliness.

"Why does a man like you," he asked finally, "waste himself on a little
farm back here in the country?"

For a single instant I came nearer to being angry than I have been for a
long time. _Waste_ myself! So we are judged without knowledge. I had a
sudden impulse to demolish him (if I could) with the nearest sarcasms I
could lay hand to. He was so sure of himself! "Oh well," I thought, with
vainglorious superiority, "he doesn't know," So I said:

"What would you have me be--a millionnaire?"

He smiled, but with a sort of sincerity.

"You might be," he said: "who can tell!"

I laughed outright: the humour of it struck me as delicious. Here I had
been, ever since I first heard of John Starkweather, rather gloating
over him as a poor suffering millionnaire (of course millionnaires _are_
unhappy), and there he sat, ruddy of face and hearty of body, pitying
_me_ for a poor unfortunate farmer back here in the country! Curious,
this human nature of ours, isn't it? But how infinitely beguiling!

So I sat down beside Mr. Starkweather on the log and crossed my legs. I
felt as though I had set foot in a new country.

"Would you really advise me," I asked, "to start in to be a
millionnaire?"

He chuckled:

"Well, that's one way of putting it. Hitch your wagon to a star; but
begin by making a few dollars more a year than you spend. When I
began----" he stopped short with an amused smile, remembering that I did
not know who he was.

"Of course," I said, "I understand that."

"A man must begin small"--he was on pleasant ground--"and anywhere he
likes, a few dollars here, a few there. He must work hard, he must save,
he must be both bold and cautious. I know a man who began when he was
about your age with total assets of ten dollars and a good digestion.
He's now considered a fairly wealthy man. He has a home in the city, a
place in the country, and he goes to Europe when he likes. He has so
arranged his affairs that young men do most of the work and he draws the
dividends--and all in a little more than twenty years. I made every
single cent--but as I said, it's a penny business to start with. The
point is, I like to see young men ambitious."

[Illustration: "What would you have me be--a millionaire?"]

"Ambitious," I asked, "for what?"

"Why, to rise in the world; to get ahead."

"I know you'll pardon me," I said, "for appearing to cross-examine you,
but I'm tremendously interested in these things. What do you mean by
rising? And who am I to get ahead of?"

He looked at me in astonishment, and with evident impatience at my
consummate stupidity.

"I am serious," I said. "I really want to make the best I can of my
life. It's the only one I've got."

"See here," he said: "let us say you clear up five hundred a year from
this farm----"

"You exaggerate--" I interrupted.

"Do I?" he laughed; "that makes my case all the better. Now, isn't it
possible to rise from that? Couldn't you make a thousand or five
thousand or even fifty thousand a year?"

It seems an unanswerable argument: fifty thousand dollars!

"I suppose I might," I said, "but do you think I'd be any better off or
happier with fifty thousand a year than I am now? You see, I like all
these surroundings better than any other place I ever knew. That old
green hill over there with the oak on it is an intimate friend of mine.
I have a good cornfield in which every year I work miracles. I've a cow
and a horse, and a few pigs. I have a comfortable home. My appetite is
perfect, and I have plenty of food to gratify it. I sleep every night
like a boy, for I haven't a trouble in this world to disturb me. I enjoy
the mornings here in the country: and the evenings are pleasant. Some of
my neighbours have come to be my good friends. I like them and I am
pretty sure they like me. Inside the house there I have the best books
ever written and I have time in the evenings to read them--I mean
_really_ read them. Now the question is, would I be any better off, or
any happier, if I had fifty thousand a year?"

John Starkweather laughed.

"Well, sir," he said, "I see I've made the acquaintance of a
philosopher."

"Let us say," I continued, "that you are willing to invest twenty years
of your life in a million dollars." ("Merely an illustration," said
John Starkweather.) "You have it where you can put it in the bank and
take it out again, or you can give it form in houses, yachts, and other
things. Now twenty years of my life--to me--is worth more than a million
dollars. I simply can't afford to sell it for that. I prefer to invest
it, as somebody or other has said, unearned in life. I've always had a
liking for intangible properties."

"See here," said John Starkweather, "you are taking a narrow view of
life. You are making your own pleasure the only standard. Shouldn't a
man make the most of the talents given him? Hasn't he a duty to
society?"

"Now you are shifting your ground," I said, "from the question of
personal satisfaction to that of duty. That concerns me, too. Let me ask
you: Isn't it important to society that this piece of earth be plowed
and cultivated?"

"Yes, but----"

"Isn't it honest and useful work?"

"Of course."

"Isn't it important that it shall not only be done, but well done?"

"Certainly."

"It takes all there is in a good man," I said, "to be a good farmer."

"But the point is," he argued, "might not the same faculties applied to
other things yield better and bigger results?"

"That is a problem, of course," I said. "I tried money-making once--in a
city--and I was unsuccessful and unhappy; here I am both successful and
happy. I suppose I was one of the young men who did the work while some
millionnaire drew the dividends." (I was cutting close, and I didn't
venture to look at him). "No doubt he had his houses and yachts and went
to Europe when he liked. I know I lived upstairs--back--where there
wasn't a tree to be seen, or a spear of green grass, or a hill, or a
brook: only smoke and chimneys and littered roofs. Lord be thanked for
my escape! Sometimes I think that Success has formed a silent conspiracy
against Youth. Success holds up a single glittering apple and bids Youth
strip and run for it; and Youth runs and Success still holds the apple."

John Starkweather said nothing.

"Yes," I said, "there are duties. We realise, we farmers, that we must
produce more than we ourselves can eat or wear or burn. We realise that
we are the foundation: we connect human life with the earth. We dig and
plant and produce, and having eaten at the first table ourselves, we
pass what is left to the bankers and millionnaires. Did you ever think,
stranger, that most of the wars of the world have been fought for the
control of this farmer's second table? Have you thought that the surplus
of wheat and corn and cotton is what the railroads are struggling to
carry? Upon our surplus run all the factories and mills; a little of it
gathered in cash makes a millionnaire. But we farmers, we sit back
comfortably after dinner, and joke with our wives and play with our
babies, and let all the rest of you fight for the crumbs that fall from
our abundant tables. If once we really cared and got up and shook
ourselves, and said to the maid: 'Here, child, don't waste the crusts:
gather 'em up and to-morrow we'll have a cottage pudding,' where in the
world would all the millionnaires be?"

Oh, I tell you, I waxed eloquent. I couldn't let John Starkweather, or
any other man, get away with the conviction that a millionnaire is
better than a farmer. "Moreover," I said, "think of the position of the
millionnaire. He spends his time playing not with life, but with the
symbols of life, whether cash or houses. Any day the symbols may change;
a little war may happen along, there may be a defective flue or a
western breeze, or even a panic because the farmers aren't scattering as
many crumbs as usual (they call it crop failure, but I've noticed that
the farmers still continue to have plenty to eat) and then what happens
to your millionnaire? Not knowing how to produce anything himself, he
would starve to death if there were not always, somewhere, a farmer to
take him up to the table."

"You're making a strong case," laughed John Starkweather.

"Strong!" I said. "It is simply wonderful what a leverage upon society a
few acres of land, a cow, a pig or two, and a span of horses gives a
man. I'm ridiculously independent. I'd be the hardest sort of a man to
dislodge or crush. I tell you, my friend, a farmer is like an oak, his
roots strike deep in the soil, he draws a sufficiency of food from the
earth itself, he breathes the free air around him, his thirst is
quenched by heaven itself--and there's no tax on sunshine."

I paused for very lack of breath. John Starkweather was laughing.

"When you commiserate me, therefore" ("I'm sure I shall never do it
again," said John Starkweather)--"when you commiserate me, therefore,
and advise me to rise, you must give me really good reasons for changing
my occupation and becoming a millionnaire. You must prove to me that I
can be more independent, more honest, more useful as a millionnaire, and
that I shall have better and truer friends!"

John Starkweather looked around at me (I knew I had been absurdly eager
and I was rather ashamed of myself) and put his hand on my knee (he has
a wonderfully fine eye!).

"I don't believe," he said, "you'd have any truer friends."

"Anyway," I said repentantly, "I'll admit that millionnaires have their
place--at present I wouldn't do entirely away with them, though I do
think they'd enjoy farming better. And if I were to select a
millionnaire for all the best things I know, I should certainly choose
you, Mr. Starkweather."

He jumped up.

"You know who I am?" he asked.

I nodded.

"And you knew all the time?"

I nodded.

"Well, you're a good one!"

We both laughed and fell to talking with the greatest friendliness. I
led him down my garden to show him my prize pie-plant, of which I am
enormously proud, and I pulled for him some of the finest stalks I could
find.

"Take it home," I said, "it makes the best pies of any pie-plant in this
country."

He took it under his arm.

"I want you to come over and see me the first chance you get," he said.
"I'm going to prove to you by physical demonstration that it's better
sport to be a millionnaire than a farmer--not that I am a millionnaire:
I'm only accepting the reputation you give me."

So I walked with him down to the lane.

"Let me know when you grease up again," he said, "and I'll come over."

So we shook hands: and he set off sturdily down the road with the
pie-plant leaves waving cheerfully over his shoulder.

[Illustration: "Somehow, and suddenly, I was a boy again"]



VIII


A BOY AND A PREACHER

This morning I went to church with Harriet. I usually have some excuse
for not going, but this morning I had them out one by one and they were
altogether so shabby that I decided not to use them. So I put on my
stiff shirt and Harriet came out in her best black cape with the silk
fringes. She looked so immaculate, so ruddy, so cheerfully sober (for
Sunday) that I was reconciled to the idea of driving her up to the
church. And I am glad I went, for the experience I had.

It was an ideal summer Sunday: sunshiny, clear and still. I believe if
I had been some Rip Van Winkle waking after twenty years' sleep I should
have known it for Sunday. Away off over the hill somewhere we could hear
a lazy farm boy singing at the top of his voice: the higher cadences of
his song reached us pleasantly through the still air. The hens sitting
near the lane fence, fluffing the dust over their backs, were holding a
small and talkative service of their own. As we turned into the main
road we saw the Patterson children on their way to church, all the
little girls in Sunday ribbons, and all the little boys very
uncomfortable in knit stockings.

"It seems a pity to go to church on a day like this," I said to Harriet.

"A pity!" she exclaimed. "Could anything be more appropriate?"

Harriet is good because she can't help it. Poor woman!--but I haven't
any pity for her.

It sometimes seems to me the more worshipful I feel the less I want to
go to church. I don't know why it is, but these forms, simple though
they are, trouble me. The moment an emotion, especially a religious
emotion, becomes an institution, it somehow loses life. True emotion is
rare and costly and that which is awakened from without never rises to
the height of that which springs spontaneously from within.

Back of the church stands a long low shed where we tied our horse. A
number of other buggies were already there, several women were standing
in groups, preening their feathers, a neighbour of ours who has a
tremendous bass voice was talking to a friend:

"Yas, oats is showing up well, but wheat is backward."

His voice, which he was evidently trying to subdue for Sunday, boomed
through the still air. So we walked among the trees to the door of the
church. A smiling elder, in an unaccustomed long coat, bowed and greeted
us. As we went in there was an odour of cushions and our footsteps on
the wooden floor echoed in the warm emptiness of the church. The Scotch
preacher was finding his place in the big Bible; he stood solid and
shaggy behind the yellow oak pulpit, a peculiar professional look on his
face. In the pulpit the Scotch preacher is too much minister, too little
man. He is best down among us with his hand in ours. He is a sort of
human solvent. Is there a twisted and hardened heart in the community he
beams upon it from his cheerful eye, he speaks out of his great charity,
he gives the friendly pressure of his large hand, and that hardened
heart dissolves and its frozen hopelessness loses itself in tears. So he
goes through life, seeming always to understand. He is not surprised by
wickedness nor discouraged by weakness: he is so sure of a greater
Strength!

But I must come to my experience, which I am almost tempted to call a
resurrection--the resurrection of a boy, long since gone away, and of a
tall lank preacher who, in his humility, looked upon himself as a
failure. I hardly know how it all came back to me; possibly it was the
scent-laden breeze that came in from the woods and through the half-open
church window, perhaps it was a line in one of the old songs, perhaps it
was the droning voice of the Scotch preacher--somehow, and suddenly, I
was a boy again.

----To this day I think of death as a valley: a dark shadowy valley:
the Valley of the Shadow of Death. So persistent are the impressions of
boyhood! As I sat in the church I could see, as distinctly as though I
were there, the church of my boyhood and the tall dyspeptic preacher
looming above the pulpit, the peculiar way the light came through the
coarse colour of the windows, the barrenness and stiffness of the great
empty room, the raw girders overhead, the prim choir. There was
something in that preacher, gaunt, worn, sodden though he appeared: a
spark somewhere, a little flame, mostly smothered by the gray dreariness
of his surroundings, and yet blazing up at times to some warmth.

As I remember it, our church was a church of failures. They sent us the
old gray preachers worn out in other fields. Such a succession of them I
remember, each with some peculiarity, some pathos. They were of the old
sort, indoctrinated Presbyterians, and they harrowed well our barren
field with the tooth of their hard creed. Some thundered the Law, some
pleaded Love; but of all of them I remember best the one who thought
himself the greatest failure. I think he had tried a hundred churches--a
hard life, poorly paid, unappreciated--in a new country. He had once had
a family, but one by one they had died. No two were buried in the same
cemetery; and finally, before he came to our village, his wife, too, had
gone. And he was old, and out of health, and discouraged: seeking some
final warmth from his own cold doctrine. How I see him, a trifle bent,
in his long worn coat, walking in the country roads: not knowing of a
boy who loved him!

He told my father once: I recall his exact, words:

"My days have been long, and I have failed. It was not given me to reach
men's hearts."

Oh, gray preacher, may I now make amends? Will you forgive me? I was a
boy and did not know; a boy whose emotions were hidden under mountains
of reserve: who could have stood up to be shot more easily than he could
have said: "I love you!"

Of that preacher's sermons I remember not one word, though I must have
heard scores of them--only that they were interminably long and dull and
that my legs grew weary of sitting and that I was often hungry. It was
no doubt the dreadful old doctrine that he preached, thundering the
horrors of disobedience, urging an impossible love through fear and a
vain belief without reason. All that touched me not at all, save with a
sort of wonder at the working of his great Adam's apple and the strange
rollings of his cavernous eyes. This he looked upon as the work of God;
thus for years he had sought, with self-confessed failure, to touch the
souls of his people. How we travel in darkness and the work we do in all
seriousness counts for naught, and the thing we toss off in play-time,
unconsciously, God uses!

One tow-headed boy sitting there in a front row dreaming dreams, if the
sermons touched him not, was yet thrilled to the depths of his being by
that tall preacher. Somewhere, I said, he had a spark within him. I
think he never knew it: or if he knew it, he regarded it as a wayward
impulse that might lead him from his God. It was a spark of poetry:
strange flower in such a husk. In times of emotion it bloomed, but in
daily life it emitted no fragrance. I have wondered what might have been
if some one--some understanding woman--had recognised his gift, or if he
himself as a boy had once dared to cut free! We do not know: we do not
know the tragedy of our nearest friend!

By some instinct the preacher chose his readings mostly from the Old
Testament--those splendid, marching passages, full of oriental imagery.
As he read there would creep into his voice a certain resonance that
lifted him and his calling suddenly above his gray surroundings.

How vividly I recall his reading of the twenty-third Psalm--a particular
reading. I suppose I had heard the passage many times before, but upon
this certain morning----

Shall I ever forget? The windows were open, for it was May, and a boy
could look out on the hillside and see with longing eyes the inviting
grass and trees. A soft wind blew in across the church; it was full of
the very essence of spring. I smell it yet. On the pulpit stood a bunch
of crocuses crowded into a vase: some Mary's offering. An old man named
Johnson who sat near us was already beginning to breathe heavily,
preparatory to sinking into his regular Sunday snore. Then those words
from the preacher, bringing me suddenly--how shall I express it?--out of
some formless void, to intense consciousness--a miracle of creation:

"Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort
me."

Well, I saw the way to the place of death that morning; far more vividly
I saw it than any natural scene I know: and myself walking therein. I
shall know it again when I come to pass that way; the tall, dark, rocky
cliffs, the shadowy path within, the overhanging dark branches, even the
whitened dead bones by the way--and as one of the vivid phantasms of
boyhood--cloaked figures I saw, lurking mysteriously in deep recesses,
fearsome for their very silence. And yet I with magic rod and staff
walking within--boldly, fearing no evil, full of faith, hope, courage,
love, invoking images of terror but for the joy of braving them. Ah,
tow-headed boy, shall I tread as lightly that dread pathway when I come
to it? Shall I, like you, fear no evil!

So that great morning went away. I heard nothing of singing or sermon
and came not to myself until my mother, touching my arm, asked me if I
had been asleep! And I smiled and thought how little grown people
knew--and I looked up at the sad sick face of the old preacher with a
new interest and friendliness. I felt, somehow, that he too was a
familiar of my secret valley. I should have liked to ask him, but I did
not dare. So I followed my mother when she went to speak to him, and
when he did not see, I touched his coat.

After that how I watched when he came to the reading. And one great
Sunday, he chose a chapter from Ecclesiastes, the one that begins
sonorously:

"Remember now thy creator in the days of thy
youth."

Surely that gaunt preacher had the true fire in his gray soul. How his
voice dwelt and quivered and softened upon the words!

"While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the
stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after
the rain----"
Thus he brought in the universe to that
small church and filled the heart of a boy.

"In the days when the keepers of the house shall
tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves,
and the grinders cease because they are few, and those
that look out of the windows be darkened."

"And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when
the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up
at the voice of the bird and all the daughters of music
shall be brought low."

Do not think that I understood the meaning of those passages: I am not
vain enough to think I know even now--but the _sound_ of them, the roll
of them, the beautiful words, and above all, the pictures!

Those Daughters of Music, how I lived for days imagining them! They were
of the trees and the hills, and they were very beautiful but elusive;
one saw them as he heard singing afar off, sweet strains fading often
into silences. Daughters of Music! Daughters of Music! And why should
they be brought low?

Doors shut in the street--how I _saw_ them--a long, long street, silent,
full of sunshine, and the doors shut, and no sound anywhere but the low
sound of the grinding: and the mill with the wheels drowsily turning and
no one there at all save one boy with fluttering heart, tiptoeing in the
sunlit doorway.

And the voice of the bird. Not the song but the _voice_. Yes, a bird had
a voice. I had known it always, and yet somehow I had not dared to say
it. I felt that they would look at me with that questioning,
incredulous look which I dreaded beyond belief. They might laugh! But
here it was in the Book--the voice of a bird. How my appreciation of
that Book increased and what a new confidence it gave me in my own
images! I went about for days, listening, listening, listening--and
interpreting.

So the words of the preacher and the fire in them:

"And when they shall be afraid of that which is
high and fears shall be in the way----"

I knew the fear of that which is high: I had dreamed of it commonly. And
I knew also the Fear that stood in the way: him I had seen in a myriad
of forms, looming black by darkness in every lane I trod; and yet with
what defiance I met and slew him!

And then, more thrilling than all else, the words of the preacher:

"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden
bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern."

Such pictures: that silver cord, that golden bowl! And why and
wherefore?

A thousand ways I turned them in my mind--and always with the sound of
the preacher's voice in my ears--the resonance of the words conveying an
indescribable fire of inspiration. Vaguely and yet with certainty I knew
the preacher spoke out of some unfathomable emotion which I did not
understand--which I did not care to understand. Since then I have
thought what those words must have meant to him!

Ah, that tall lank preacher, who thought himself a failure: how long I
shall remember him and the words he read and the mournful yet resonant
cadences of his voice--and the barren church, and the stony religion!
Heaven he gave me, unknowing, while he preached an ineffectual hell.

As we rode home Harriet looked into my face.

"You have enjoyed the service," she said softly.

"Yes," I said.

"It _was_ a good sermon," she said.

"Was it?" I replied.



IX


THE TRAMP

I have had a new and strange experience--droll in one way, grotesque in
another and when everything is said, tragic: at least an adventure.
Harriet looks at me accusingly, and I have had to preserve the air of
one deeply contrite now for two days (no easy accomplishment for me!),
even though in secret I have smiled and pondered.

How our life has been warped by books! We are not contented with
realities: we crave conclusions. With what ardour our minds respond to
real events with literary deductions. Upon a train of incidents, as
unconnected as life itself, we are wont to clap a booky ending. An
instinctive desire for completeness animates the human mind (a struggle
to circumscribe the infinite). We would like to have life "turn
out"--but it doesn't--it doesn't. Each event is the beginning of a whole
new genealogy of events. In boyhood I remember asking after every story
I heard: "What happened next?" for no conclusion ever quite satisfied
me--even when the hero died in his own gore. I always knew there was
something yet remaining to be told. The only sure conclusion we can
reach is this: Life changes. And what is more enthralling to the human
mind than this splendid, boundless, coloured mutability!--life in the
making? How strange it is, then, that we should be contented to take
such small parts of it as we can grasp, and to say, "This is the true
explanation." By such devices we seek to bring infinite existence within
our finite egoistic grasp. We solidify and define where solidification
means loss of interest; and loss of interest, not years, is old age.

So I have mused since my tramp came in for a moment out of the Mystery
(as we all do) and went away again into the Mystery (in our way, too).

There are strange things in this world!

       *       *       *       *       *

As I came around the corner I saw sitting there on my steps the very
personification of Ruin, a tumble-down, dilapidated wreck of manhood. He
gave one the impression of having been dropped where he sat, all in a
heap. My first instinctive feeling was not one of recoil or even of
hostility, but rather a sudden desire to pick him up and put him where
he belonged, the instinct, I should say, of the normal man who hangs his
axe always on the same nail. When he saw me he gathered himself together
with reluctance and stood fully revealed. It was a curious attitude of
mingled effrontery and apology. "Hit me if you dare," blustered his
outward personality. "For God's sake, don't hit me," cried the innate
fear in his eyes. I stopped and looked at him sharply, His eyes dropped,
his look slid away, so that I experienced a sense of shame, as though I
had trampled upon him. A damp rag of humanity! I confess that my first
impulse, and a strong one, was to kick him for the good of the human
race. No man has a right to be like that.

And then, quite suddenly, I had a great revulsion of feeling. What was I
that I should judge without knowledge? Perhaps, after all, here was one
bearing treasure. So I said:

"You are the man I have been expecting."

He did not reply, only flashed his eyes up at me, wherein fear deepened.

"I have been saving up a coat for you," I said, "and a pair of shoes.
They are not much worn," I said, "but a little too small for me. I think
they will fit you."

He looked at me again, not sharply, but with a sort of weak cunning. So
far he had not said a word.

"I think our supper is nearly ready," I said: "let us go in."

"No, mister," he mumbled, "a bite out here--no, mister"--and then, as
though the sound of his own voice inspired him, he grew declamatory.

"I'm a respectable man, mister, plumber by trade, but----"

"But," I interrupted, "you can't get any work, you're cold and you
haven't had anything to eat for two days, so you are walking out here in
the country where we farmers have no plumbing to do. At home you have a
starving wife and three small children----"

"Six, mister----"

"Well, six--And now we will go in to supper."

I led him into the entry way and poured for him a big basin of hot
water. As I stepped out again with a comb he was slinking toward the
doorway.

"Here," I said, "is a comb; we are having supper now in a few minutes."

I wish I could picture Harriet's face when I brought him into her
immaculate kitchen. But I gave her a look, one of the commanding sort
that I can put on in times of great emergency, and she silently laid
another place at the table.

When I came to look at our Ruin by the full lamplight I was surprised to
see what a change a little warm water and a comb had wrought in him. He
came to the table uncertain, blinking, apologetic. His forehead, I saw,
was really impressive--high, narrow and thin-skinned. His face gave one
somehow the impression of a carving once full of significant lines, now
blurred and worn as though Time, having first marked it with the lines
of character, had grown discouraged and brushed the hand of
forgetfulness over her work. He had peculiar thin, silky hair of no
particular colour, with a certain almost childish pathetic waviness
around the ears and at the back of the neck. Something, after all, about
the man aroused one's compassion.

I don't know that he looked dissipated, and surely he was not as dirty
as I had at first supposed. Something remained that suggested a care for
himself in the past. It was not dissipation, I decided; it was rather an
indefinable looseness and weakness, that gave one alternately the
feeling I had first experienced, that of anger, succeeded by the
compassion that one feels for a child. To Harriet, when she had once
seen him, he was all child, and she all compassion.

We disturbed him with no questions. Harriet's fundamental quality is
homeliness, comfortableness. Her tea-kettle seems always singing; an
indefinable tabbiness, as of feather cushions, lurks in her
dining-room, a right warmth of table and chairs, indescribably
comfortable at the end of a chilly day. A busy good-smelling steam
arises from all her dishes at once, and the light in the middle of the
table is of a redness that enthralls the human soul. As for Harriet
herself, she is the personification of comfort, airy, clean, warm,
inexpressibly wholesome. And never in the world is she so engaging as
when she ministers to a man's hunger. Truthfully, sometimes, when she
comes to me out of the dimmer light of the kitchen to the radiance of
the table with a plate of muffins, it is as though she and the muffins
were a part of each other, and that she is really offering some of
herself. And down in my heart I know she is doing just that!

Well, it was wonderful to see our Ruin expand in the warmth of Harriet's
presence. He had been doubtful of me; of Harriet, I could see, he was
absolutely sure. And how he did eat, saying nothing at all, while
Harriet plied him with food and talked to me of the most disarming
commonplaces. I think it did her heart good to see the way he ate: as
though he had had nothing before in days. As he buttered his muffin,
not without some refinement, I could see that his hand was long, a
curious, lean, ineffectual hand, with a curving little finger. With the
drinking of the hot coffee colour began to steal up into his face, and
when Harriet brought out a quarter of pie saved over from our dinner and
placed it before him--a fine brown pie with small hieroglyphics in the
top from whence rose sugary bubbles--he seemed almost to escape himself.
And Harriet fairly purred with hospitality.

The more he ate the more of a man he became. His manners improved, his
back straightened up, he acquired a not unimpressive poise of the head.
Such is the miraculous power of hot muffins and pie!

"As you came down," I asked finally, "did you happen to see old man
Masterson's threshing machine?"

"A big red one, with a yellow blow-off?"

"That's the one," I said.

"Well, it was just turning into a field about two miles above here," he
replied.

"Big gray, banked barn?" I asked.

"Yes, and a little unpainted house," said our friend.

"That's Parsons'," put in Harriet, with a mellow laugh. "I wonder if he
ever _will_ paint that house. He builds bigger barns every year and
doesn't touch the house. Poor Mrs. Parsons----"

And so we talked of barns and threshing machines in the way we farmers
love to do and I lured our friend slowly into talking about himself. At
first he was non-committal enough and what he said seemed curiously made
to order; he used certain set phrases with which to explain simply what
was not easy to explain--a device not uncommon to all of us. I was
fearful of not getting within this outward armouring, but gradually as
we talked and Harriet poured him a third cup of hot coffee he dropped
into a more familiar tone. He told with some sprightliness of having
seen threshings in Mexico, how the grain was beaten out with flails in
the patios, and afterwards thrown up in the wind to winnow out.

"You must have seen a good deal of life," remarked Harriet
sympathetically.

At this remark I saw one of our Ruin's long hands draw up and clinch. He
turned his head toward Harriet. His face was partly in the shadow, but
there was something striking and strange in the way he looked at her,
and a deepness in his voice when he spoke:

"Too much! I've seen too much of life." He threw out one arm and brought
it back with a shudder.

"You see what it has left me," he said, "I am an example of too much
life."

In response to Harriet's melting compassion he had spoken with
unfathomable bitterness. Suddenly he leaned forward toward me with a
piercing gaze as though he would look into my soul. His face had changed
completely; from the loose and vacant mask of the early evening it had
taken on the utmost tensity of emotion.

"You do not know," he said, "what it is to live too much--and to be
afraid."

"Live too much?" I asked.

"Yes, live too much, that is what I do--and I am afraid."

He paused a moment and then broke out in a higher key:

"You think I am a tramp. Yes--you do. I know--a worthless fellow, lying,
begging, stealing when he can't beg. You have taken me in and fed me.
You have said the first kind words I have heard, it seems to me, in
years. I don't know who you are. I shall never see you again."

I cannot well describe the intensity of the passion with which he spoke,
his face shaking with emotion, his hands trembling.

"Oh, yes," I said easily, "we are comfortable people here--and it is a
good place to live."

"No no," he returned. "I know, I've got my call--" Then leaning forward
he said in a lower, even more intense voice--"I live everything
beforehand."

I was startled by the look of his eyes: the abject terror of it: and I
thought to myself, "The man is not right in his mind." And yet I longed
to know of the life within this strange husk of manhood.

"I know," he said, as if reading my thought, "you think"--and he tapped
his forehead with one finger--"but I'm not. I'm as sane as you are."

It was a strange story he told. It seems almost unbelievable to me as I
set it down here, until I reflect how little any one of us knows of the
deep life within his nearest neighbour--what stories there are, what
tragedies enacted under a calm exterior! What a drama there _may_ be in
this commonplace man buying ten pounds of sugar at the grocery store, or
this other one driving his two old horses in the town road! We do not
know. And how rarely are the men of inner adventure articulate!
Therefore I treasure the curious story the tramp told me. I do not
question its truth. It came as all truth does, through a clouded and
unclean medium: and any judgment of the story itself must be based upon
a knowledge of the personal equation of the Ruin who told it.

"I am no tramp," he said, "in reality, I am no tramp. I began as well as
anyone--It doesn't matter now, only I won't have any of the sympathy
that people give to the man who has seen better days. I hate sentiment.
_I hate it_----"

I cannot attempt to set down the story in his own words. It was broken
with exclamations and involved with wandering sophistries and diatribes
of self-blame. His mind had trampled upon itself in throes of
introspection until it was often difficult to say which way the paths of
the narrative really led. He had thought so much and acted so little
that he travelled in a veritable bog of indecision. And yet, withal,
some ideas, by constant attrition, had acquired a really striking form.
"I am afraid before life," he said. "It makes me dizzy with thought."

At another time he said, "If I am a tramp at all, I am a mental tramp. I
have an unanchored mind."

It seems that he came to a realisation that there was something peculiar
about him at a very early age. He said they would look at him and
whisper to one another and that his sayings were much repeated, often in
his hearing. He knew that he was considered an extraordinary child: they
baited him with questions that they might laugh at his quaint replies.
He said that as early as he could remember he used to plan situations so
that he might say things that were strange and even shocking in a
child. His father was a small professor in a small college--a "worm" he
called him bitterly--"one of those worms that bores in books and finally
dries up and blows off." But his mother--he said she was an angel. I
recall his exact expression about her eyes that "when she looked at one
it made him better." He spoke of her with a softening of the voice,
looking often at Harriet. He talked a good deal about his mother, trying
to account for himself through her. She was not strong, he said, and
very sensitive to the contact of either friends or enemies--evidently a
nervous, high-strung woman.

"You have known such people," he said, "everything hurt her."

He said she "starved to death." She starved for affection and
understanding.

One of the first things he recalled of his boyhood was his passionate
love for his mother.

"I can remember," he said, "lying awake in my bed and thinking how I
would love her and serve her--and I could see myself in all sorts of
impossible places saving her from danger. When she came to my room to
bid me good night, I imagined how I should look--for I have always been
able to see myself doing things--when I threw my arms around her neck to
kiss her."

Here he reached a strange part of his story. I had been watching Harriet
out of the corner of my eye. At first her face was tearful with
compassion, but as the Ruin proceeded it became a study in wonder and
finally in outright alarm. He said that when his mother came in to bid
him good night he saw himself so plainly beforehand ("more vividly than
I see you at this moment") and felt his emotion so keenly that when his
mother actually stooped to kiss him, somehow he could not respond, he
could not throw his arms around her neck. He said he often lay quiet, in
waiting, trembling all over until she had gone, not only suffering
himself but pitying her, because he understood how she must feel. Then
he would follow her, he said, in imagination through the long hall,
seeing himself stealing behind her, just touching her hand, wistfully
hoping that she might turn to him again--and yet fearing. He said no one
knew the agonies he suffered at seeing his mother's disappointment over
his apparent coldness and unresponsiveness.

"I think," he said, "it hastened her death." He would not go to the
funeral; he did not dare, he said. He cried and fought when they came to
take him away, and when the house was silent he ran up to her room and
buried his head in her pillows and ran in swift imagination to her
funeral. He said he could see himself in the country road, hurrying in
the cold rain--for it seemed raining--he said he could actually feel the
stones and ruts, although he could not tell how it was possible that he
should have seen himself at a distance and _felt_ in his own feet the
stones of the road. He said he saw the box taken from the wagon--_saw_
it--and that he heard the sound of the clods thrown in, and it made him
shriek until they came running and held him.

As he grew older he said he came to live everything beforehand, and that
the event as imagined was so far more vivid and affecting that he had no
heart for the reality itself.

"It seems strange to you," he said, "but I am telling you exactly what
my experience was."

It was curious, he said, when his father told him he must not do a
thing, how he went on and imagined in how many different ways he could
do it--and how, afterward, he imagined he was punished by that "worm,"
his father, whom he seemed to hate bitterly. Of those early days, in
which he suffered acutely--in idleness, apparently--and perhaps that was
one of the causes of his disorder--he told us at length, but many of the
incidents were so evidently worn by the constant handling of his mind
that they gave no clear impression.

Finally, he ran away from home, he said. At first he found that a wholly
new place and new people took him out of himself ("surprised me," he
said, "so that I could not live everything beforehand"). Thus he fled.
The slang he used, "chased himself all over the country," seemed
peculiarly expressive. He had been in foreign countries; he had herded
sheep in Australia (so he said), and certainly from his knowledge of the
country he had wandered with the gamboleros of South America; he had
gone for gold to Alaska, and worked in the lumber camps of the Pacific
Northwest. But he could not escape, he said. In a short time he was no
longer "surprised." His account of his travels, while fragmentary, had a
peculiar vividness. He _saw_ what he described, and he saw it so plainly
that his mind ran off into curious details that made his words strike
sometimes like flashes of lightning. A strange and wonderful
mind--uncontrolled. How that man needed the discipline of common work!

I have rarely listened to a story with such rapt interest. It was not
only what he said, nor how he said it, but how he let me see the strange
workings of his mind. It was continuously a story of a story. When his
voice finally died down I drew a long breath and was astonished to
perceive that it was nearly midnight--and Harriet speechless with her
emotions. For a moment he sat quiet and then burst out:

"I cannot get away: I cannot escape," and the veritable look of some
trapped creature came into his eyes, fear so abject that I reached over
and laid my hand on his arm:

"Friend," I said, "stop here. We have a good country. You have travelled
far enough. I know from experience what a cornfield will do for a man."

"I have lived all sorts of life," he continued as if he had not heard a
word I said, "and I have lived it all twice, and I am afraid."

"Face it," I said, gripping his arm, longing for some power to "blow
grit into him."

"Face it!" he exclaimed, "don't you suppose I have tried. If I could do
a thing--anything--a few times without thinking--_once_ would be
enough--I might be all right. I should be all right."

He brought his fist down on the table, and there was a note of
resolution in his voice. I moved my chair nearer to him, feeling as
though I were saving an immortal soul from destruction. I told him of
our life, how the quiet and the work of it would solve his problems. I
sketched with enthusiasm my own experience and I planned swiftly how he
could live, absorbed in simple work--and in books.

"Try it," I said eagerly.

"I will," he said, rising from the table, and grasping my hand. "I'll
stay here."

I had a peculiar thrill of exultation and triumph. I know how the priest
must feel, having won a soul from torment!

He was trembling with excitement and pale with emotion and weariness.
One must begin the quiet life with rest. So I got him off to bed, first
pouring him a bathtub of warm water. I laid out clean clothes by his
bedside and took away his old ones, talking to him cheerfully all the
time about common things. When I finally left him and came downstairs I
found Harriet standing with frightened eyes in the middle of the
kitchen.

"I'm afraid to have him sleep in this house," she said.

But I reassured her. "You do not understand," I said.

Owing to the excitement of the evening I spent a restless night. Before
daylight, while I was dreaming a strange dream of two men running, the
one who pursued being the exact counterpart of the one who fled, I heard
my name called aloud:

"David, David!"

I sprang out of bed.

"The tramp has gone," called Harriet.

He had not even slept in his bed. He had raised the window, dropped out
on the ground and vanished.



X


THE INFIDEL

I find that we have an infidel in this community. I don't know that I
should set down the fact here on good white paper; the walls, they say,
have eyes, the stones have ears. But consider these words written in
bated breath! The worst of it is--I gather from common report--this
infidel is a Cheerful Infidel, whereas a true infidel should bear upon
his face the living mark of his infamy. We are all tolerant enough of
those who do not agree with us, provided only they are sufficiently
miserable! I confess when I first heard of him--through Mrs. Horace
(with shudders)--I was possessed of a consuming secret desire to see
him. I even thought of climbing a tree somewhere along the public
road--like Zaccheus, wasn't it?--and watching him go by. If by any
chance he should look my way I could easily avoid discovery by crouching
among the leaves. It shows how pleasant must be the paths of
unrighteousness that we are tempted to climb trees to see those who walk
therein. My imagination busied itself with the infidel. I pictured him
as a sort of Moloch treading our pleasant countryside, flames and smoke
proceeding from his nostrils, his feet striking fire, his voice like the
sound of a great wind. At least that was the picture I formed of him
from common report.

And yesterday afternoon I met the infidel and I must here set down a
true account of the adventure. It is, surely, a little new door opened
in the house of my understanding. I might travel a whole year in a city,
brushing men's elbows, and not once have such an experience. In country
spaces men develop sensitive surfaces, not calloused by too frequent
contact, accepting the new impression vividly and keeping it bright to
think upon.

I met the infidel as the result of a rather unexpected series of
incidents. I don't think I have said before that we have for some time
been expecting a great event on this farm. We have raised corn and
buckwheat, we have a fertile asparagus bed and onions and pie-plant
(enough to supply the entire population of this community) and I can't
tell how many other vegetables. We have had plenty of chickens hatched
out (I don't like chickens, especially hens, especially a certain gaunt
and predatory hen named [so Harriet says] Evangeline, who belongs to a
neighbour of ours) and we have had two litters of pigs, but until this
bright moment of expectancy we never have had a calf.

Upon the advice of Horace, which I often lean upon as upon a staff, I
have been keeping my young heifer shut up in the cow-yard now for a week
or two. But yesterday, toward the middle of the afternoon, I found the
fence broken down and the cow-yard empty. From what Harriet said, the
brown cow must have been gone since early morning. I knew, of course,
what that meant, and straightway I took a stout stick and set off over
the hill, tracing the brown cow as far as I could by her tracks. She had
made way toward a clump of trees near Horace's wood lot, where I
confidently expected to find her. But as fate would have it, the pasture
gate, which is rarely used, stood open and the tracks led outward into
an old road. I followed rapidly, half pleased that I had not found her
within the wood. It was a promise of new adventure which I came to with
downright enjoyment (confidentially--I should have been cultivating
corn!). I peered into every thicket as I passed: once I climbed an old
fence and, standing on the top rail, intently surveyed my neighbour's
pasture. No brown cow was to be seen. At the crossing of the brook I
shouldered my way from the road down a path among the alders, thinking
the brown cow might have gone that way to obscurity.

It is curious how, in spite of domestication and training, Nature in her
great moments returns to the primitive and instinctive! My brown cow,
never having had anything but the kindest treatment, is as gentle an
animal as could be imagined, but she had followed the nameless,
ages-old law of her breed: she had escaped in her great moment to the
most secret place she knew. It did not matter that she would have been
safer in my yard--both she and her calf--that she would have been surer
of her food; she could only obey the old wild law. So turkeys will hide
their nests. So the tame duck, tame for unnumbered generations, hearing
from afar the shrill cry of the wild drake, will desert her quiet
surroundings, spread her little-used wings and become for a time the
wildest of the wild.

So we think--you and I--that we are civilised! But how often, how often,
have we felt that old wildness which is our common heritage, scarce
shackled, clamouring in our blood!

I stood listening among the alders, in the deep cool shade. Here and
there a ray of sunshine came through the thick foliage: I could see it
where it silvered the cobweb ladders of those moist spaces. Somewhere in
the thicket I heard an unalarmed catbird trilling her exquisite song, a
startled frog leaped with a splash into the water; faint odours of some
blossoming growth, not distinguishable, filled the still air. It was
one of those rare moments when one seems to have caught Nature unaware.
I lingered a full minute, listening, looking; but my brown cow had not
gone that way. So I turned and went up rapidly to the road, and there I
found myself almost face to face with a ruddy little man whose
countenance bore a look of round astonishment. We were both surprised. I
recovered first.

"Have you seen a brown cow?" I asked.

He was still so astonished that he began to look around him; he thrust
his hands nervously into his coat pockets and pulled them out again.

"I think you won't find her in there," I said, seeking to relieve his
embarrassment.

But I didn't know, then, how very serious a person I had encountered.

"No--no," he stammered, "I haven't seen your cow."

So I explained to him with sobriety, and at some length, the problem I
had to solve. He was greatly interested and inasmuch as he was going my
way he offered at once to assist me in my search. So we set off
together. He was rather stocky of build, and decidedly short of breath,
so that I regulated my customary stride to suit his deliberation. At
first, being filled with the spirit of my adventure, I was not
altogether pleased with this arrangement. Our conversation ran something
like this:

STRANGER: Has she any spots or marks on her?

MYSELF: No, she is plain brown.

STRANGER: How old a cow is she?

MYSELF: This is her first calf.

STRANGER: Valuable animal?

MYSELF: _(fencing):_ I have never put a price on her; she is a promising
young heifer.

STRANGER: Pure blood?

MYSELF: No, grade.

After a pause:

STRANGER: Live around here?

MYSELF: Yes, half a mile below here. Do you?

STRANGER: Yes, three miles above here. My name's Purdy.

MYSELF: Mine is Grayson.

He turned to me solemnly and held out his hand. "_I'm_ glad to meet you,
Mr. Grayson," he said. "And I'm glad," I said, "to meet you, Mr. Purdy."

I will not attempt to put down all we said: I couldn't. But by such
devices is the truth in the country made manifest.

So we continued to walk and look. Occasionally I would unconsciously
increase my pace until I was warned to desist by the puffing of Mr.
Purdy. He gave an essential impression of genial timidity: and how he
_did_ love to talk!

We came at last to a rough bit of land grown up to scrubby oaks and
hazel brush.

"This," said Mr. Purdy, "looks hopeful."

We followed the old road, examining every bare spot of earth for some
evidence of the cow's tracks, but without finding so much as a sign. I
was for pushing onward but Mr. Purdy insisted that this clump of woods
was exactly such a place as a cow would like. He developed such a
capacity for argumentation and seemed so sure of what he was talking
about that I yielded, and we entered the wood.

"We'll part here," he said: "you keep over there about fifty yards and
I'll go straight ahead. In that way we'll cover the ground. Keep
a-shoutin'."

So we started and I kept a-shoutin'. He would answer from time to time:
"Hulloo hulloo!"

It was a wild and beautiful bit of forest. The ground under the trees
was thickly covered with enormous ferns or bracken, with here and there
patches of light where the sun came through the foliage. The low spots
were filled with the coarse green verdure of skunk cabbage. I was so
sceptical about finding the cow in a wood where concealment was so easy
that I confess I rather idled and enjoyed the surroundings. Suddenly,
however, I heard Mr. Purdy's voice, with a new note in it:

"Hulloo, hulloo----"

"What luck?"

"Hulloo, hulloo----"

"I'm coming--" and I turned and ran as rapidly as I could through the
trees, jumping over logs and dodging low branches, wondering what new
thing my friend had discovered. So I came to his side.

"Have you got trace of her?" I questioned eagerly.

"Sh!" he said, "over there. Don't you see her?"

"Where, where?"

He pointed, but for a moment I could see nothing but the trees and the
bracken. Then all at once, like the puzzle in a picture, I saw her
plainly. She was standing perfectly motionless, her head lowered, and in
such a peculiar clump of bushes and ferns that she was all but
indistinguishable. It was wonderful, the perfection with which her
instinct had led her to conceal herself.

All excitement, I started toward her at once. But Mr. Purdy put his hand
on my arm.

"Wait," he said, "don't frighten her. She has her calf there."

"No!" I exclaimed, for I could see nothing of it.

We went, cautiously, a few steps nearer. She threw up her head and
looked at us so wildly for a moment that I should hardly have known her
for my cow. She was, indeed, for the time being, a wild creature of the
wood. She made a low sound and advanced a step threateningly.

"Steady," said Mr. Purdy, "this is her first calf. Stop a minute and
keep quiet. She'll soon get used to us."

Moving to one side cautiously, we sat down on an old log. The brown
heifer paused, every muscle tense, her eyes literally blazing, We sat
perfectly still. After a minute or two she lowered her head, and with
curious guttural sounds she began to lick her calf, which lay quite
hidden in the bracken.

"She has chosen a perfect spot," I thought to myself, for it was the
wildest bit of forest I had seen anywhere in this neighbourhood. At one
side, not far off, rose a huge gray rock, partly covered on one side
with moss, and round about were oaks and a few ash trees of a poor
scrubby sort (else they would long ago have been cut out). The earth
underneath was soft and springy with leaf mould.--

Mr. Purdy was one to whom silence was painful; he fidgeted about,
evidently bursting with talk, and yet feeling compelled to follow his
own injunction of silence. Presently he reached into his capacious
pocket and handed me a little paper-covered booklet. I took it, curious,
and read the title:

"Is There a Hell?"

It struck me humorously. In the country we are always--at least some of
us are--more or less in a religious ferment, The city may distract
itself to the point where faith is unnecessary; but in the country we
must, perforce, have something to believe in. And we talk about it, too!
I read the title aloud, but in a low voice:

"Is There a Hell?" Then I asked: "Do you really want to know?"

"The argument is all there," he replied.

"Well," I said, "I can tell you off-hand, out of my own experience, that
there certainly is a hell----"

He turned toward me with evident astonishment, but I proceeded with
tranquillity:

"Yes, sir, there's no doubt about it. I've been near enough myself
several times to smell the smoke. It isn't around here," I said.

As he looked at me his china-blue eyes grew larger, if that were
possible, and his serious, gentle face took on a look of pained
surprise.

"Before you say such things," he said, "I beg you to read my book."

He took the tract from my hands and opened it on his knee.

"The Bible tells us," he said, "that in the beginning God created the
heavens and the earth, He made the firmament and divided the waters.
But does the Bible say that He created a hell or a devil? Does it?"

I shook my head.

"Well, then!" he said triumphantly, "and that isn't all, either. The
historian Moses gives in detail a full account of what was made in six
days. He tells how day and night were created, how the sun and the moon
and the stars were made; he tells how God created the flowers of the
field, and the insects, and the birds, and the great whales, and said,
'Be fruitful and multiply,' He accounts for every minute of the time in
the entire six days--and of course God rested on the seventh--and there
is not one word about hell. Is there?"

I shook my head.

"Well then--" exultantly, "where is it? I'd like to have any man, no
matter how wise he is, answer that. Where is it?"

"That," I said, "has troubled me, too. We don't always know just where
our hells are. If we did we might avoid them. We are not so sensitive to
them as we should be--do you think?"

He looked at me intently: I went on before he could answer:

"Why, I've seen men in my time living from day to day in the very
atmosphere of perpetual torment, and actually arguing that there was no
hell. It is a strange sight, I assure you, and one that will trouble you
afterwards. From what I know of hell, it is a place of very loose
boundaries. Sometimes I've thought we couldn't be quite sure when we
were in it and when we were not."

I did not tell my friend, but I was thinking of the remark of old
Swedenborg: "The trouble with hell is we shall not know it when we
arrive."

At this point Mr. Purdy burst out again, having opened his little book
at another page.

"When Adam and Eve had sinned," he said, "and the God of Heaven walked
in the garden in the cool of the evening and called for them and they
had hidden themselves on account of their disobedience, did God say to
them: Unless you repent of your sins and get forgiveness I will shut you
up in yon dark and dismal hell and torment you (or have the devil do it)
for ever and ever? Was there such a word?"

I shook my head.

[Illustration: "He reached into his pocket and handed me a little
paper-covered booklet"]

"No, sir," he said vehemently, "there was not."

"But does it say," I asked, "that Adam and Eve had not themselves been
using their best wits in creating a hell? That point has occurred to me.
In my experience I've known both Adams and Eves who were most adroit in
their capacity for making places of torment--and afterwards of getting
into them. Just watch yourself some day after you've sown a crop of
desires and you'll see promising little hells starting up within you
like pigweeds and pusley after a warm rain in your garden. And our
heavens, too, for that matter--they grow to our own planting: and how
sensitive they are too! How soon the hot wind of a passion withers them
away! How surely the fires of selfishness blacken their perfection!"

I'd almost forgotten Mr. Purdy--and when I looked around, his face wore
a peculiar puzzled expression not unmixed with alarm. He held up his
little book eagerly almost in my face.

"If God had intended to create a hell," he said, "I assert without fear
of successful contradiction that when God was there in the Garden of
Eden it was the time for Him to have put Adam and Eve and all their
posterity on notice that there was a place of everlasting torment. It
would have been only a square deal for Him to do so. But did He?"

I shook my head.

"He did not. If He had mentioned hell on that occasion I should not now
dispute its existence. But He did not. This is what He said to Adam--the
very words: 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou
return unto the ground: for out of it thou wast taken: for dust thou
art, and unto dust shalt thou return.' You see He did not say 'Unto hell
shalt thou return.' He said, 'Unto dust.' That isn't hell, is it?"

"Well," I said, "there are in my experience a great many different kinds
of hells. There are almost as many kinds of hells as there are men and
women upon this earth. Now, your hell wouldn't terrify me in the least.
My own makes me no end of trouble. Talk about burning pitch and
brimstone: how futile were the imaginations of the old fellows who
conjured up such puerile torments. Why, I can tell you of no end of
hells that are worse--and not half try. Once I remember, when I was
younger----"

I happened to glance around at my companion. He sat there looking at me
with horror--fascinated horror.

"Well, I won't disturb your peace of mind by telling _that_ story," I
said.

"Do you believe that we shall go to hell?" he asked in a low voice.

"That depends," I said. "Let's leave out the question of 'we'; let's be
more comfortably general in our discussion. I think we can safely say
that some go and some do not. It's a curious and noteworthy thing," I
said, "but I've known of cases--There are some people who aren't really
worth good honest tormenting--let alone the rewards of heavenly bliss.
They just haven't anything to torment! What is going to become of such
folks? I confess I don't know. You remember when Dante began his journey
into the infernal regions----"

"I don't believe a word of that Dante," he interrupted excitedly; "it's
all a made up story. There isn't a word of truth in it; it is a
blasphemous book. Let me read you what I say about it in here."

"I will agree with you without argument," I said, "that it is not _all_
true. I merely wanted to speak of one of Dante's experiences as an
illustration of the point I'm making. You remember that almost the first
spirits he met on his journey were those who had never done anything in
this life to merit either heaven or hell. That always struck me as being
about the worst plight imaginable for a human being. Think of a creature
not even worth good honest brimstone!"

Since I came home, I've looked up the passage; and it is a wonderful
one. Dante heard wailings and groans and terrible things said in many
tongues. Yet these were not the souls of the wicked. They were only
those "who had lived without praise or blame, thinking of nothing but
themselves." "Heaven would not dull its brightness with those, nor would
lower hell receive them."

"And what is it," asked Dante, "that makes them so grievously suffer?"

"Hopelessness of death," said Virgil, "Their blind existence here, and
immemorable former life, make them so wretched that they envy every
other lot. Mercy and Justice alike disdain them. Let us speak of them
no more. Look, and pass!"

But Mr. Purdy, in spite of his timidity, was a man of much persistence.

"They tell me," he said, "when they try to prove the reasonableness of
hell, that unless you show sinners how they're goin' to be tormented,
they'd never repent. Now, I say that if a man has to be scared into
religion, his religion ain't much good."

"There," I said, "I agree with you completely."

His face lighted up, and he continued eagerly:

"And I tell 'em: You just go ahead and try for heaven; don't pay any
attention to all this talk about everlasting punishment."

"Good advice!" I said.

It had begun to grow dark. The brown cow was quiet at last. We could
hear small faint sounds from the calf. I started slowly through the
bracken. Mr. Purdy hung at my elbow, stumbling sideways as he walked,
but continuing to talk eagerly. So we came to the place where the calf
lay. I spoke in a low voice:

"So boss, so boss."

I would have laid my hand on her neck but she started back with a wild
toss of her horns. It was a beautiful calf! I looked at it with a
peculiar feeling of exultation, pride, ownership. It was red-brown, with
a round curly pate and one white leg. As it lay curled there among the
ferns, it was really beautiful to look at. When we approached, it did
not so much as stir. I lifted it to its legs, upon which the cow
uttered a strange half-wild cry and ran a few steps off, her head thrown
in the air. The calf fell back as though it had no legs.

"She is telling it not to stand up," said Mr. Purdy.

I had been afraid at first that something was the matter!

"Some are like that," he said. "Some call their calves to run. Others
won't let you come near 'em at all; and I've even known of a case where a
cow gored its calf to death rather than let anyone touch it."

I looked at Mr. Purdy not without a feeling of admiration. This was a
thing he knew: a language not taught in the universities. How well it
became him to know it; how simply he expressed it! I thought to myself:
There are not many men in this world, after all, that it will not pay
us to go to school to--for something or other.

I should never have been able, indeed, to get the cow and calf home,
last night at least, if it had not been for my chance friend. He knew
exactly what to do and how to do it. He wore a stout coat of denim,
rather long in the skirts. This he slipped off, while I looked on in
some astonishment, and spread it out on the ground. He placed my staff
under one side of it and found another stick nearly the same size for
the other side. These he wound into the coat until he had made a sort of
stretcher. Upon this we placed the unresisting calf. What a fine one it
was! Then, he in front and I behind, we carried the stretcher and its
burden out of the wood. The cow followed, sometimes threatening,
sometimes bellowing, sometimes starting off wildly, head and tail in the
air, only to rush back and, venturing up with trembling muscles, touch
her tongue to the calf, uttering low maternal sounds.

"Keep steady," said Mr. Purdy, "and everything'll be all right."

When we came to the brook we stopped to rest. I think my companion would
have liked to start his argument again, but he was too short of breath.

It was a prime spring evening! The frogs were tuning up. I heard a
drowsy cowbell somewhere over the hills in the pasture. The brown cow,
with eager, outstretched neck, was licking her calf as it lay there on
the improvised stretcher. I looked up at the sky, a blue avenue of
heaven between the tree tops; I felt the peculiar sense of mystery which
nature so commonly conveys.

"I have been too sure!" I said. "What do we know after all! Why may
there not be future heavens and hells--'other heavens for other earths'?
We do not know--we do not _know_--"

So, carrying the calf, in the cool of the evening, we came at last to my
yard. We had no sooner put the calf down than it jumped nimbly to its
feet and ran, wobbling absurdly, to meet its mother.

"The rascal," I said, "after all our work."

"It's the nature of the animal," said Mr. Purdy, as he put on his coat.

I could not thank him enough. I invited him to stay with us to supper,
but he said he must hurry home.

"Then come down soon to see me," I said, "and we will settle this
question as to the existence of a hell."

He stepped up close to me and said, with an appealing note in his voice:

"You do not really believe in a hell, do you?"

How human nature loves collusiveness: nothing short of the categorical
will satisfy us! What I said to Mr. Purdy evidently appeased him, for he
seized my hand and shook and shook.

"We haven't understood each other," he said eagerly. "You don't believe
in eternal damnation any more than I do." Then he added, as though some
new uncertainty puzzled him, "Do you?"

At supper I was telling Harriet with gusto of my experiences. Suddenly
she broke out:

"What was his name?"

"Purdy."

"Why, he's the infidel that Mrs. Horace tells about!"

"Is that possible?" I said, and I dropped my knife and fork. The
strangest sensation came over me.

"Why," I said, "then I'm an infidel too!"

So I laughed and I've been laughing gloriously ever since--at myself, at
the infidel, at the entire neighbourhood. I recalled that delightful
character in "The Vicar of Wakefield" (my friend the Scotch Preacher
loves to tell about him), who seasons error by crying out "Fudge!"

"Fudge!" I said.

We're all poor sinners!



XI


THE COUNTRY DOCTOR

_Sunday afternoon, June 9._

We had a funeral to-day in this community and the longest funeral
procession, Charles Baxter says, he has seen in all the years of his
memory among these hills. A good man has gone away--and yet remains. In
the comparatively short time I have been here I never came to know him
well personally, though I saw him often in the country roads, a ruddy
old gentleman with thick, coarse, iron-gray hair, somewhat stern of
countenance, somewhat shabby of attire, sitting as erect as a trooper in
his open buggy, one muscular hand resting on his knee, the other holding
the reins of his familiar old white horse. I said I did not come to know
him well personally, and yet no one who knows this community can help
knowing Doctor John North. I never so desired the gift of moving
expression as I do at this moment, on my return from his funeral, that I
may give some faint idea of what a good man means to a community like
ours--as the more complete knowledge of it has come to me to-day.

In the district school that I attended when a boy we used to love to
leave our mark, as we called it, wherever our rovings led us. It was a
bit of boyish mysticism, unaccountable now that we have grown older and
wiser (perhaps); but it had its meaning. It was an instinctive
outreaching of the young soul to perpetuate the knowledge of its
existence upon this forgetful earth. My mark, I remember, was a notch
and a cross. With what secret fond diligence I carved it in the gray
bark of beech trees, on fence posts, or on barn doors, and once, I
remember, on the roof-ridge of our home, and once, with high imaginings
of how long it would remain, I spent hours chiseling it deep in a
hard-headed old boulder in the pasture, where, if man has been as kind
as Nature, it remains to this day. If you should chance to see it you
would not know of the boy who carved it there.

So Doctor North left his secret mark upon the neighbourhood--as all of
us do, for good or for ill, upon _our_ neighbourhoods, in accordance
with the strength of that character which abides within us. For a long
time I did not know that it was he, though it was not difficult to see
that some strong good man had often passed this way. I saw the mystic
sign of him deep-lettered in the hearthstone of a home; I heard it
speaking bravely from the weak lips of a friend; it is carved in the
plastic heart of many a boy. No, I do not doubt the immortalities of the
soul; in this community, which I have come to love so much, dwells more
than one of John North's immortalities--and will continue to dwell. I,
too, live more deeply because John North was here.

He was in no outward way an extraordinary man, nor was his life
eventful. He was born in this neighbourhood: I saw him lying quite still
this morning in the same sunny room of the same house where he first saw
the light of day. Here among these common hills he grew up, and save for
the few years he spent at school or in the army, he lived here all his
life long. In old neighbourhoods and especially farm neighbourhoods
people come to know one another--not clothes knowledge, or money
knowledge--but that sort of knowledge which reaches down into the hidden
springs of human character. A country community may be deceived by a
stranger, too easily deceived, but not by one of its own people. For it
is not a studied knowledge; it resembles that slow geologic uncovering
before which not even the deep buried bones of the prehistoric saurian
remain finally hidden.

I never fully realised until this morning what a supreme triumph it is,
having grown old, to merit the respect of those who know us best. Mere
greatness offers no reward to compare with it, for greatness compels
that homage which we freely bestow upon goodness. So long as I live I
shall never forget this morning. I stood in the door-yard outside of
the open window of the old doctor's home. It was soft, and warm, and
very still--a June Sunday morning. An apple tree not far off was still
in blossom, and across the road on a grassy hillside sheep fed
unconcernedly. Occasionally, from the roadway where the horses of the
countryside were waiting, I heard the clink of a bit-ring or the low
voice of some new-comer seeking a place to hitch. Not half those who
came could find room in the house: they stood uncovered among the trees.
From within, wafted through the window, came the faint odour of flowers,
and the occasional minor intonation of someone speaking--and finally our
own Scotch Preacher! I could not see him, but there lay in the cadences
of his voice a peculiar note of peacefulness, of finality. The day
before he died Dr. North had said:

"I want McAlway to conduct my funeral, not as a minister but as a man.
He has been my friend for forty years; he will know what I mean."

The Scotch Preacher did not say much. Why should he? Everyone there
_knew_: and speech would only have cheapened what we knew. And I do not
now recall even the little he said, for there was so much all about me
that spoke not of the death of a good man, but of his life. A boy who
stood near me--a boy no longer, for he was as tall as a man--gave a more
eloquent tribute than any preacher could have done. I saw him stand his
ground for a time with that grim courage of youth which dreads emotion
more than a battle: and then I saw him crying behind a tree! He was not
a relative of the old doctor's; he was only one of many into whose deep
life the doctor had entered.

They sang "Lead, Kindly Light," and came out through the narrow doorway
into the sunshine with the coffin, the hats of the pallbearers in a row
on top, and there was hardly a dry eye among us.

And as they came out through the narrow doorway, I thought how the
Doctor must have looked out daily through so many, many years upon this
beauty of hills and fields and of sky above, grown dearer from long
familiarity--which he would know no more. And Kate North, the Doctor's
sister, his only relative, followed behind, her fine old face gray and
set, but without a tear in her eye. How like the Doctor she looked: the
same stern control!

In the hours which followed, on the pleasant winding way to the
cemetery, in the groups under the trees, on the way homeward again, the
community spoke its true heart, and I have come back with the feeling
that human nature, at bottom, is sound and sweet. I knew a great deal
before about Doctor North, but I knew it as knowledge, not as emotion,
and therefore it was not really a part of my life.

I heard again the stories of how he drove the country roads, winter and
summer, how he had seen most of the population into the world and had
held the hands of many who went out! It was the plain, hard life of a
country doctor, and yet it seemed to rise in our community like some
great tree, its roots deep buried in the soil of our common life, its
branches close to the sky. To those accustomed to the outward
excitements of city life it would have seemed barren and uneventful. It
was significant that the talk was not so much of what the Doctor did as
of _how_ he did it, not so much of his actions as of the natural
expression of his character. And when we come to think of it, goodness
_is_ uneventful. It does not flash, it glows. It is deep, quiet and very
simple. It passes not with oratory, it is commonly foreign to riches,
nor does it often sit in the places of the mighty: but may be felt in
the touch of a friendly hand or the look of a kindly eye.

Outwardly, John North often gave the impression of brusqueness. Many a
woman, going to him for the first time, and until she learned that he
was in reality as gentle as a girl, was frightened by his manner. The
country is full of stories of such encounters. We laugh yet over the
adventure of a woman who formerly came to spend her summers here. She
dressed very beautifully and was "nervous." One day she went to call on
the Doctor. He made a careful examination and asked many questions.
Finally he said, with portentous solemnity:

"Madam, you're suffering from a very common complaint."

The Doctor paused, then continued, impressively:

"You haven't enough work to do. This is what I would advise. Go home,
discharge your servants, do your own cooking, wash your own clothes and
make your own beds. You'll get well."

She is reported to have been much offended, and yet to-day there was a
wreath of white roses in Doctor North's room sent from the city by that
woman.

If he really hated anything in this world the Doctor hated whimperers.
He had a deep sense of the purpose and need of punishment, and he
despised those who fled from wholesome discipline.

A young fellow once went to the Doctor--so they tell the story--and
asked for something to stop his pain.

"Stop it!" exclaimed the Doctor: "why, it's good for you. You've done
wrong, haven't you? Well, you're being punished; take it like a man.
There's nothing more wholesome than good honest pain."

And yet how much pain he alleviated in this community--in forty years!

The deep sense that a man should stand up to his fate was one of the
key-notes of his character; and the way he taught it, not only by word
but by every action of his life, put heart into many a weak man and
woman, Mrs. Patterson, a friend of ours, tells of a reply she once had
from the Doctor to whom she had gone with a new trouble. After telling
him about it she said:

"I've left it all with the Lord."

"You'd have done better," said the Doctor, "to keep it yourself. Trouble
is for your discipline: the Lord doesn't need it."

It was thus out of his wisdom that he was always telling people what
they knew, deep down in their hearts, to be true. It sometimes hurt at
first, but sooner or later, if the man had a spark of real manhood in
him, he came back, and gave the Doctor an abiding affection.

There were those who, though they loved him, called him intolerant. I
never could look at it that way. He _did_ have the only kind of
intolerance which is at all tolerable, and that is the intolerance of
intolerance. He always set himself with vigour against that unreason and
lack of sympathy which are the essence of intolerance; and yet there was
a rock of conviction on many subjects behind which he could not be
driven. It was not intolerance: it was with him a reasoned certainty of
belief. He had a phrase to express that not uncommon state of mind in
this age particularly, which is politely willing to yield its foothold
within this universe to almost any reasoner who suggests some other
universe, however shadowy, to stand upon. He called it a "mush of
concession." He might have been wrong in his convictions, but he, at
least, never floundered in a "mush of concession." I heard him say once:

"There are some things a man can't concede, and one is, that a man who
has broken a law, like a man who has broken a leg, has got to suffer for
it."

It was only with the greatest difficulty that he could be prevailed upon
to present a bill. It was not because the community was poor, though
some of our people are poor, and it was certainly not because the Doctor
was rich and could afford such philanthropy, for, saving a rather
unproductive farm which during the last ten years of his life lay wholly
uncultivated, he was as poor as any man in the community. He simply
seemed to forget that people owed him.

It came to be a common and humorous experience for people to go to the
Doctor and say:

"Now, Doctor North, how much do I owe you? You remember you attended my
wife two years ago when the baby came--and John when he had the
diphtheria----"

"Yes, yes," said the Doctor, "I remember."

"I thought I ought to pay you."

"Well, I'll look it up when I get time."

But he wouldn't. The only way was to go to him and say:

"Doctor, I want to pay ten dollars on account."

"All right," he'd answer, and take the money.

To the credit of the community I may say with truthfulness that the
Doctor never suffered. He was even able to supply himself with the best
instruments that money could buy. To him nothing was too good for our
neighbourhood. This morning I saw in a case at his home a complete set
of oculist's instruments, said to be the best in the county--a very
unusual equipment for a country doctor. Indeed, he assumed that the
responsibility for the health of the community rested upon him. He was a
sort of self-constituted health officer. He was always sniffing about
for old wells and damp cellars--and somehow, with his crisp humour and
sound sense, getting them cleaned. In his old age he even grew
querulously particular about these things--asking a little more of human
nature than it could quite accomplish. There were innumerable other
ways--how they came out to-day all glorified now that he is gone!--in
which he served the community.

Horace tells how he once met the Doctor driving his old white horse in
the town road.

"Horace," called the Doctor, "why don't you paint your barn?"

"Well," said Horace, "it _is_ beginning to look a bit shabby."

"Horace," said the Doctor, "you're a prominent citizen. We look to you
to keep up the credit of the neighbourhood."

Horace painted his barn.

I think Doctor North was fonder of Charles Baxter than of anyone else,
save his sister. He hated sham and cant: if a man had a single _reality_
in him the old Doctor found it; and Charles Baxter in many ways exceeds
any man I ever knew in the downright quality of genuineness. The Doctor
was never tired of telling--and with humour--how he once went to Baxter
to have a table made for his office. When he came to get it he found
the table upside clown and Baxter on his knees finishing off the under
part of the drawer slides. Baxter looked up and smiled in the engaging
way he has, and continued his work. After watching him for some time the
Doctor said:

"Baxter, why do you spend so much time on that table? Who's going to
know whether or not the last touch has been put on the under side of
it?"

Baxter straightened up and looked at the Doctor in surprise.

"Why, I will," he said.

How the Doctor loved to tell that story! I warrant there is no boy who
ever grew up in this country who hasn't heard it.

It was a part of his pride in finding reality that made the Doctor such
a lover of true sentiment and such a hater of sentimentality. I prize
one memory of him which illustrates this point. The district school gave
a "speaking" and we all went. One boy with a fresh young voice spoke a
"soldier piece"--the soliloquy of a one-armed veteran who sits at a
window and sees the troops go by with dancing banners and glittering
bayonets, and the people cheering and shouting. And the refrain went
something like this:

"Never again call 'Comrade'
  To the men who were comrades for years;
Never again call 'Brother'
  To the men we think of with tears."

I happened to look around while the boy was speaking, and there sat the
old Doctor with the tears rolling unheeded down his ruddy face; he was
thinking, no doubt, of _his_ war time and the comrades _he_ knew.

On the other hand, how he despised fustian and bombast. His "Bah!"
delivered explosively, was often like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy
room. Several years ago, before I came here--and it is one of the
historic stories of the county--there was a semi-political Fourth of
July celebration with a number of ambitious orators. One of them, a
young fellow of small worth who wanted to be elected to the legislature,
made an impassioned address on "Patriotism." The Doctor was present, for
he liked gatherings: he liked people. But he did not like the young
orator, and did not want him to be elected. In the midst of the speech,
while the audience was being carried through the clouds of oratory, the
Doctor was seen to be growing more and more uneasy. Finally he burst
out:

"Bah!"

The orator caught himself, and then swept on again.

"Bah!" said the Doctor.

By this time the audience was really interested. The orator stopped. He
knew the Doctor, and he should have known better than to say what he
did. But he was very young and he knew the Doctor was opposing him.

"Perhaps," he remarked sarcastically, "the Doctor can make a better
speech than I can."

The Doctor rose instantly, to his full height--and he was an
impressive-looking man.

"Perhaps," he said, "I can, and what is more, I will." He stood up on a
chair and gave them a talk on Patriotism--real patriotism--the
patriotism of duty done in the small concerns of life. That speech,
which ended the political career of the orator, is not forgotten to-day.

One thing I heard to-day about the old Doctor impressed me deeply. I
have been thinking about it ever since: it illuminates his character
more than anything I have heard. It is singular, too, that I should not
have known the story before. I don't believe it was because it all
happened so long ago; it rather remained untold out of deference to a
sort of neighbourhood delicacy.

I had, indeed, wondered why a man of such capacities, so many qualities
of real greatness and power, should have escaped a city career. I said
something to this effect to a group of men with whom I was talking this
morning. I thought they exchanged glances; one said:

"When he first came out of the army he'd made such a fine record as a
surgeon that everyone-urged him to go to the city and practice----"

A pause followed which no one seemed inclined to fill.

"But he didn't go," I said.

"No, he didn't go. He was a brilliant young fellow. He _knew_ a lot, and
he was popular, too. He'd have had a great success----"

Another pause.

"But he didn't go?" I asked promptingly.

"No; he staid here. He was better educated than any man in this county.
Why, I've seen him more'n once pick up a book of Latin and read it _for
pleasure_."

I could see that all this was purposely irrelevant, and I liked them for
it. But walking home from the cemetery Horace gave me the story; the
community knew it to the last detail. I suppose it is a story not
uncommon among men, but this morning, told of the old Doctor we had just
laid away, it struck me with a tragic poignancy difficult to describe.

"Yes," said Horace, "he was to have been married, forty years ago, and
the match was broken off because he was a drunkard."

"A drunkard!" I exclaimed, with a shock I cannot convey.

"Yes, sir," said Horace, "one o' the worst you ever see. He got it in
the army. Handsome, wild, brilliant--that was the Doctor. I was a little
boy but I remember it mighty well."

He told me the whole distressing story. It was all a long time ago and
the details do not matter now. It was to be expected that a man like the
old Doctor should love, love once, and love as few men do. And that is
what he did--and the girl left him because he was a drunkard!

"They all thought," said Horace, "that he'd up an' kill himself. He
said he would, but he didn't. Instid o' that he put an open bottle on
his table and he looked at it and said: 'Which is stronger, now, you or
John North? We'll make that the test,' he said, 'we'll live or die by
that.' Them was his exact words. He couldn't sleep nights and he got
haggard like a sick man, but he left the bottle there and never touched
it."

How my heart throbbed with the thought of that old silent struggle! How
much it explained; how near it brought all these people around him! It
made him so human. It is the tragic necessity (but the salvation) of
many a man that he should come finally to an irretrievable experience,
to the assurance that everything is lost. For with that moment, if he be
strong, he is saved. I wonder if anyone ever attains real human sympathy
who has not passed through the fire of some such experience. Or to
humour either! For in the best laughter do we not hear constantly that
deep minor note which speaks of the ache in the human heart? It seems to
me I can understand Doctor North!

He died Friday morning. He had been lying very quiet all night;
suddenly he opened his eyes and said to his sister: "Good-bye, Kate,"
and shut them again. That was all. The last call had come and he was
ready for it. I looked at his face after death. I saw the iron lines of
that old struggle in his mouth and chin; and the humour that it brought
him in the lines around his deep-set eyes.

----And as I think of him this afternoon, I can see him--curiously, for
I can hardly explain it--carrying a banner as in battle right here among
our quiet hills. And those he leads seem to be the people we know, the
men, and the women, and the boys! He is the hero of a new age. In olden
days he might have been a pioneer, carrying the light of civilisation to
a new land; here he has been a sort of moral pioneer--a pioneering far
more difficult than any we have ever known. There are no heroics
connected with it, the name of the pioneer will not go ringing down the
ages; for it is a silent leadership and its success is measured by
victories in other lives. We see it now, only too dimly, when he is
gone. We reflect sadly that we did not stop to thank him. How busy we
were with our own affairs when he was among us! I wonder is there
anyone here to take up the banner he has laid down!

----I forgot to say that the Scotch Preacher chose the most impressive
text in the Bible for his talk at the funeral:

"He that is greatest among you, let him be ... as he that doth serve."

And we came away with a nameless, aching sense of loss, thinking how,
perhaps, in a small way, we might do something for somebody else--as the
old Doctor did.



XII


AN EVENING AT HOME

"How calm and quiet a delight
  Is it, alone,
To read and meditate and write,
  By none offended, and offending none.
To walk, ride, sit or sleep at one's own ease,
  And, pleasing a man's self, none other to displease."

--_Charles Cotton, a friend of Izaak Walton_, 1650


During the last few months so many of the real adventures of life have
been out of doors and so much of the beauty, too, that I have scarcely
written a word about my books. In the summer the days are so long and
the work so engrossing that a farmer is quite willing to sit quietly on
his porch after supper and watch the long evenings fall--and rest his
tired back, and go to bed early. But the winter is the true time for
indoor enjoyment!

Days like these! A cold night after a cold day! Well wrapped, you have
made arctic explorations to the stable, the chicken-yard and the
pig-pen; you have dug your way energetically to the front gate, stopping
every few minutes to beat your arms around your shoulders and watch the
white plume of your breath in the still air--and you have rushed in
gladly to the warmth of the dining-room and the lamp-lit supper. After
such a day how sharp your appetite, how good the taste of food!
Harriet's brown bread (moist, with thick, sweet, dark crusts) was never
quite so delicious, and when the meal is finished you push back your
chair feeling like a sort of lord.

"That was a good supper, Harriet," you say expansively.

"Was it?" she asks modestly, but with evident pleasure.

"Cookery," you remark, "is the greatest art in the world----"

"Oh, you were hungry!"

"Next to poetry," you conclude, "and much better appreciated. Think how
easy it is to find a poet who will turn you a presentable sonnet, and
how very difficult it is to find a cook who will turn you an edible
beefsteak----"

I said a good deal more on this subject which I shall not attempt to
repeat. Harriet did not listen through it all. She knows what I am
capable of when I really get started; and she has her well-defined
limits. A practical person, Harriet! When I have gone about so far, she
begins clearing the table or takes up her mending--but I don't mind it
at all. Having begun talking, it is wonderful how pleasant one's own
voice becomes. And think of having a clear field--and no interruptions!

My own particular room, where I am permitted to revel in the desert of
my own disorder, opens comfortably off the sitting-room. A lamp with a
green shade stands invitingly on the table shedding a circle of light on
the books and papers underneath, but leaving all the remainder of the
room in dim pleasantness. At one side stands a comfortable big chair
with everything in arm's reach, including my note books and ink bottle.
Where I sit I can look out through the open doorway and see Harriet near
the fireplace rocking and sewing. Sometimes she hums a little tune which
I never confess to hearing, lest I miss some of the unconscious
cadences. Let the wind blow outside and the snow drift in piles around
the doorway and the blinds rattle--I have before me a whole long
pleasant evening.

       *       *       *       *       *

What a convenient and delightful world is this world of books!--if you
bring to it not the obligations of the student, or look upon it as an
opiate for idleness, but enter it rather with the enthusiasm of the
adventurer! It has vast advantages over the ordinary world of daylight,
of barter and trade, of work and worry. In this world every man is his
own King--the sort of King one loves to imagine, not concerned in such
petty matters as wars and parliaments and taxes, but a mellow and
moderate despot who is a true patron of genius--a mild old chap who has
in his court the greatest men and women in the world--and all of them
vying to please the most vagrant of his moods! Invite any one of them to
talk, and if your highness is not pleased with him you have only to put
him back in his corner--and bring some jester to sharpen the laughter of
your highness, or some poet to set your faintest emotion to music!

I have marked a certain servility in books. They entreat you for a
hearing: they cry out from their cases--like men, in an eternal struggle
for survival, for immortality.

"Take me," pleads this one, "I am responsive to every mood. You will
find in me love and hate, virtue and vice. I don't preach: I give you
life as it is. You will find here adventures cunningly linked with
romance and seasoned to suit the most fastidious taste. Try _me_."

"Hear such talk!" cries his neighbour. "He's fiction. What he says never
happened at all. He tries hard to make you believe it, but it isn't
true, not a word of it. Now, I'm fact. Everything you find in me can be
depended upon."

"Yes," responds the other, "but who cares! Nobody wants to read you,
you're dull."

"You're false!"

As their voices grow shriller with argument your highness listens with
the indulgent smile of royalty when its courtiers contend for its
favour, knowing that their very life depends upon a wrinkle in your
august brow.

       *       *       *       *       *

As for me I confess to being a rather crusty despot. When Horace was
over here the other evening talking learnedly about silos and ensilage I
admit that I became the very pattern of humility, but when I take my
place in the throne of my arm-chair with the light from the green-shaded
lamp falling on the open pages of my book, I assure you I am decidedly
an autocratic person. My retainers must distinctly keep their places! I
have my court favourites upon whom I lavish the richest gifts of my
attention. I reserve for them a special place in the worn case nearest
my person, where at the mere outreaching of an idle hand I can summon
them to beguile my moods. The necessary slavies of literature I have
arranged in indistinct rows at the farther end of the room where they
can be had if I require their special accomplishments.

       *       *       *       *       *

How little, after all, learning counts in this world either in books or
in men. I have often been awed by the wealth of information I have
discovered in a man or a book: I have been awed and depressed. How
wonderful, I have thought, that one brain should hold so much, should be
so infallible in a world of fallibility. But I have observed how soon
and completely such a fount of information dissipates itself. Having
only things to give, it comes finally to the end of its things: it is
empty. What it has hived up so painfully through many a studious year
comes now to be common property. We pass that way, take our share, and
do not even say "Thank you." Learning is like money; it is of prodigious
satisfaction to the possessor thereof, but once given forth it diffuses
itself swiftly.

"What have you?" we are ever asking of those we meet. "Information,
learning, money?"

We take it cruelly and pass onward, for such is the law of material
possessions.

"What have you?" we ask. "Charm, personality, character, the great gift
of unexpectedness?"

How we draw you to us! We take you in. Poor or ignorant though you may
be, we link arms and loiter; we love you not for what you have or what
you give us, but for what you are.

I have several good friends (excellent people) who act always as I
expect them to act. There is no flight! More than once I have listened
to the edifying conversation of a certain sturdy old gentleman whom I
know, and I am ashamed to say that I have thought:

"Lord! if he would jump up now and turn an intellectual handspring, or
slap me on the back (figuratively, of course: the other would be
unthinkable), or--yes, swear! I--think I could love him."

But he never does--and I'm afraid he never will!

When I speak then of my books you will know what I mean. The chief charm
of literature, old or new, lies in its high quality of surprise,
unexpectedness, spontaneity: high spirits applied to life. We can fairly
hear some of the old chaps you and I know laughing down through the
centuries. How we love 'em! They laughed for themselves, not for us!

Yes, there must be surprise in the books that I keep in the worn case at
my elbow, the surprise of a new personality perceiving for the first
time the beauty, the wonder, the humour, the tragedy, the greatness of
truth. It doesn't matter at all whether the writer is a poet, a
scientist, a traveller, an essayist or a mere daily space-maker, if he
have the God-given grace of wonder.

"What on _earth_ are you laughing about?" cries Harriet from the
sitting-room.

When I have caught my breath, I say, holding up my book:

"This absurd man here is telling of the adventures of a certain
chivalrous Knight."

"But I can't see how you can laugh out like that, sitting all alone
there. Why, it's uncanny."

"You don't know the Knight, Harriet, nor his squire Sancho."

"You talk of them just as though they were real persons."

"Real!" I exclaim, "real! Why they are much more real than most of the
people we know. Horace is a mere wraith compared with Sancho."

And then I rush out.

"Let me read you this," I say, and I read that matchless chapter wherein
the Knight, having clapped on his head the helmet which Sancho has
inadvertently used as a receptacle for a dinner of curds and, sweating
whey profusely, goes forth to fight two fierce lions. As I proceed with
that prodigious story, I can see Harriet gradually forgetting her
sewing, and I read on the more furiously until, coming to the point of
the conflict wherein the generous and gentle lion, having yawned, "threw
out some half yard of tongue wherewith he licked and washed his face,"
Harriet begins to laugh.

"There!" I say triumphantly.

Harriet looks at me accusingly.

"Such foolishness!" she says. "Why should any man in his senses try to
fight caged lions!"

"Harriet," I say, "you are incorrigible."

She does not deign to reply, so I return with meekness to my room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The most distressing thing about the ordinary fact writer is his
cock-sureness. Why, here is a man (I have not yet dropped him out of
the window) who has written a large and sober book explaining life. And
do you know when he gets through he is apparently much discouraged about
this universe. This is the veritable moment when I am in love with my
occupation as a despot! At this moment I will exercise the prerogative
of tyranny:

"Off with his head!"

I do not believe this person though he have ever so many titles to
jingle after his name, nor in the colleges which gave them, if they
stand sponsor for that which he writes, I do not believe he has
compassed this universe. I believe him to be an inconsequent being like
myself--oh, much more learned, of course--and yet only upon the
threshold of these wonders. It goes too deep--life--to be solved by
fifty years of living. There is far too much in the blue firmament, too
many stars, to be dissolved in the feeble logic of a single brain. We
are not yet great enough, even this explanatory person, to grasp the
"scheme of things entire." This is no place for weak pessimism--this
universe. This is Mystery and out of Mystery springs the fine
adventure! What we have seen or felt, what we think we know, are
insignificant compared with that which may be known.

What this person explains is not, after all, the Universe--but himself,
his own limited, faithless personality. I shall not accept his
explanation. I escape him utterly!

Not long ago, coming in from my fields, I fell to thinking of the
supreme wonder of a tree; and as I walked I met the Professor.

"How," I asked, "does the sap get up to the top of these great maples
and elms? What power is there that should draw it upward against the
force of gravity?"

He looked at me a moment with his peculiar slow smile.

"I don't know," he said.

"What!" I exclaimed, "do you mean to tell me that science has not solved
this simplest of natural phenomena?"

"We do not know," he said. "We explain, but we do not know."

No, my Explanatory Friend, we do not know--we do not know the why of the
flowers, or the trees, or the suns; we do not even know why, in our own
hearts, we should be asking this curious question--and other deeper
questions.

       *       *       *       *       *

No man becomes a great writer unless he possesses a highly developed
sense of Mystery, of wonder. A great writer is never _blasé_; everything
to him happened not longer ago than this forenoon.

The other night the Professor and the Scotch Preacher happened in here
together and we fell to discussing, I hardly know how, for we usually
talk the neighbourhood chat of the Starkweathers, of Horace and of
Charles Baxter, we fell to discussing old Izaak Walton--and the nonsense
(as a scientific age knows it to be) which he sometimes talked with such
delightful sobriety.

"How superior it makes one feel, in behalf of the enlightenment and
progress of his age," said the Professor, "when he reads Izaak's
extraordinary natural history."

"Does it make you feel that way?" asked the Scotch Preacher. "It makes
me want to go fishing."

And he took the old book and turned the leaves until he came to page
54.

"Let me read you," he said, "what the old fellow says about the
'fearfulest of fishes.'"

"'... Get secretly behind a tree, and stand as
free from motion as possible; then put a grasshopper
on your hook, and let your hook hang a quarter of
a yard short of the water, to which end you must rest
your rod on some bough of a tree; but it is likely
that the Chubs will sink down towards the bottom
of the water at the first shadow of your rod, for a
Chub is the fearfulest of fishes, and will do so if but
a bird flies over him and makes the least shadow
on the water; but they will presently rise up to the
top again, and there lie soaring until some shadow
affrights them again; I say, when they lie upon the
top of the water, look at the best Chub, which you,
getting yourself in a fit place, may very easily see,
and move your rod as slowly as a snail moves, to
that Chub you intend to catch, let your bait fall
gently upon the water three or four inches before
him, and he will infallibly take the bait, and you
will be as sure to catch him.... Go your way
presently, take my rod, and do as I bid you, and I
will sit down and mend my tackling till you return
back----'"

"Now I say," said the Scotch Preacher, "that it makes me want to go
fishing."

"That," I said, "is true of every great book: it either makes us want
to do things, to go fishing, or fight harder or endure more
patiently--or it takes us out of ourselves and beguiles us for a time
with the friendship of completer lives than our own."

The great books indeed have in them the burning fire of life;

.... "nay, they do preserve, as in a violl,
the purest efficacie and extraction of that living
intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively,
and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous
Dragon's teeth; which being sown up and down, may
chance to spring up armed men."

How soon we come to distinguish the books of the mere writers from the
books of real men! For true literature, like happiness, is ever a
by-product; it is the half-conscious expression of a man greatly engaged
in some other undertaking; it is the song of one working. There is
something inevitable, unrestrainable about the great books; they seemed
to come despite the author. "I could not sleep," says the poet Horace,
"for the pressure of unwritten poetry." Dante said of his books that
they "made him lean for many days." I have heard people say of a writer
in explanation of his success:

"Oh, well, he has the literary knack."

It is not so! Nothing is further from the truth. He writes well not
chiefly because he is interested in writing, or because he possesses any
especial knack, but because he is more profoundly, vividly interested in
the activities of life and he tells about them--over his shoulder. For
writing, like farming, is ever a tool, not an end.

How the great one-book men remain with us! I can see Marcus Aurelius
sitting in his camps among the far barbarians writing out the
reflections of a busy life. I see William Penn engaged in great
undertakings, setting down "Some of the Fruits of Solitude," and Abraham
Lincoln striking, in the hasty paragraphs written for his speeches, one
of the highest notes in our American literature.

       *       *       *       *       *

"David?"

"Yes, Harriet."

"I am going up now; it is very late."

"Yes."

"You will bank the fire and see that the doors are locked?"

"Yes."

After a pause: "And, David, I didn't mean--about the story you read. Did
the Knight finally kill the lions?"

"No," I said with sobriety, "it was not finally necessary."

"But I thought he set out to kill them."

"He did; but he proved his valour without doing it."

Harriet paused, made as if to speak again, but did not do so.

"Valour"--I began in my hortatory tone, seeing a fair opening, but at
the look in her eye I immediately desisted.

"You won't stay up late?" she warned.

"N-o," I said.

Take John Bunyan as a pattern of the man who forgot himself into
immortality. How seriously he wrote sermons and pamphlets, now happily
forgotten! But it was not until he was shut up in jail (some writers I
know might profit by his example) that he "put aside," as he said, "a
more serious and important work" and wrote "Pilgrim's Progress." It is
the strangest thing in the world--the judgment of men as to what is
important and serious! Bunyan says in his rhymed introduction:

    "I only thought to make
I knew not what: nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my neighbour; no, not I:
I did it my own self to gratify."

Another man I love to have at hand is he who writes of Blazing Bosville,
the Flaming Tinman, and of The Hairy Ones.

How Borrow escapes through his books! His object was not to produce
literature but to display his erudition as a master of language and of
outlandish custom, and he went about the task in all seriousness of
demolishing the Roman Catholic Church. We are not now so impressed with
his erudition that we do not smile at his vanity and we are quite
contented, even after reading his books, to let the church survive; but
how shall we spare our friend with his inextinguishable love of life,
his pugilists, his gypsies, his horse traders? We are even willing to
plow through arid deserts of dissertation in order that we may enjoy the
perfect oases in which the man forgets himself!

Reading such books as these and a hundred others, the books of the worn
case at my elbow.

"The bulged and the bruised octavos,
The dear and the dumpy twelves----"

I become like those initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries who, as
Cicero tells us, have attained "the art of living joyfully and of dying
with a fairer hope."

       *       *       *       *       *

It is late, and the house is still. A few bright embers glow in the
fireplace. You look up and around you, as though coming back to the
world from some far-off place. The clock in the dining-room ticks with
solemn precision; you did not recall that it had so loud a tone. It has
been a great evening, in this quiet room on your farm, you have been
able to entertain the worthies of all the past!

You walk out, resoundingly, to the kitchen and open the door. You look
across the still white fields. Your barn looms black in the near
distance, the white mound close at hand is your wood-pile, the great
trees stand like sentinels in the moonlight; snow has drifted upon the
doorstep and lies there untracked. It is, indeed, a dim and untracked
world: coldly beautiful but silent--and of a strange unreality! You
close the door with half a shiver and take the real world with you up to
bed. For it is past one o'clock.

[Illustration: "The beauty, the wonder, the humour, the tragedy, the
greatness of truth"]



XIII


THE POLITICIAN

In the city, as I now recall it (having escaped), it seemed to be the
instinctive purpose of every citizen I knew not to get into politics but
to keep out. We sedulously avoided caucuses and school-meetings, our
time was far too precious to be squandered in jury service, we forgot to
register for elections, we neglected to vote. We observed a sort of
aristocratic contempt for political activity and then fretted and fumed
over the low estate to which our government had fallen--and never saw
the humour of it all.

At one time I experienced a sort of political awakening: a "boss" we
had was more than ordinarily piratical. I think he had a scheme to steal
the city hall and sell the monuments in the park (something of that
sort), and I, for one, was disturbed. For a time I really wanted to bear
a man's part in helping to correct the abuses, only I did not know how
and could not find out.

In the city, when one would learn anything about public matters, he
turns, not to life, but to books or newspapers. What we get in the city
is not life, but what someone else tells us about life. So I acquired a
really formidable row of works on Political Economy and Government (I
admire the word "works" in that application) where I found Society laid
out for me in the most perfect order--with pennies on its eyes. How
often, looking back, I see myself as in those days, read my learned
books with a sort of fury of interest!--

From the reading of books I acquired a sham comfort. Dwelling upon the
excellent theory of our institutions, I was content to disregard the
realities of daily practice. I acquired a mock assurance under which I
proceeded complacently to the polls, and cast my vote without knowing a
single man on the ticket, what he stood for, or what he really intended
to do. The ceremony of the ballot bears to politics much the
relationship that the sacrament bears to religion: how often, observing
the formality, we yet depart wholly from the spirit of the institution.

It was good to escape that place of hurrying strangers. It was good to
get one's feet down into the soil. It was good to be in a place where
things _are_ because they _grow_, and politics, not less than corn! Oh,
my friend, say what you please, argue how you like, this crowding
together of men and women in unnatural surroundings, this haste to be
rich in material things, this attempt to enjoy without production, this
removal from first-hand life, is irrational, and the end of it is ruin.
If our cities were not recruited constantly with the fresh, clean blood
of the country, with boys who still retain some of the power and the
vision drawn from the soil, where would they be!

"We're a great people," says Charles Baxter, "but we don't always work
at it."

"But we talk about it," says the Scotch Preacher.

"By the way," says Charles Baxter, "have you seen George Warren? He's up
for supervisor."

"I haven't yet."

"Well, go around and see him. We must find out exactly what he intends
to do with the Summit Hill road. If he is weak on that we'd better look
to Matt Devine. At least Matt is safe."

The Scotch Preacher looked at Charles Baxter and said to me with a note
of admiration in his voice:

"Isn't this man Baxter getting to be intolerable as a political boss!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Baxter's shop! Baxter's shop stands close to the road and just in the
edge of a grassy old apple orchard. It is a low, unpainted building,
with generous double doors in front, standing irresistibly open as you
go by. Even as a stranger coming here first from the city I felt the
call of Baxter's shop. Shall I ever forget! It was a still morning--one
of those days of warm sunshine--and perfect quiet in the country--and
birds in the branches--and apple trees all in bloom. Baxter whistling
at his work in the sunlit doorway of his shop, in his long, faded apron,
much worn at the knees. He was bending to the rhythmic movement of his
plane, and all around him as he worked rose billows of shavings. And oh,
the odours of that shop! the fragrant, resinous odour of new-cut pine,
the pungent smell of black walnut, the dull odour of oak wood--how they
stole out in the sunshine, waylaying you as you came far up the road,
beguiling you as you passed the shop, and stealing reproachfully after
you as you went onward down the road.

Never shall I forget that grateful moment when I first passed Baxter's
shop--a failure from the city--and Baxter looking out at me from his
deep, quiet, gray eyes--eyes that were almost a caress!

My wayward feet soon took me, unintroduced, within the doors of that
shop, the first of many visits. And I can say no more in appreciation of
my ventures there than that I came out always with more than I had when
I went in.

The wonders there! The long bench with its huge-jawed wooden vises, and
the little dusty windows above looking out into the orchard, and the
brown planes and the row of shiny saws, and the most wonderful pattern
squares and triangles and curves, each hanging on its own peg; and
above, in the rafters, every sort and size of curious wood. And oh! the
old bureaus and whatnots and high-boys in the corners waiting their turn
to be mended; and the sticky glue-pot waiting, too, on the end of the
sawhorse. There is family history here in this shop--no end of it--the
small and yet great (because intensely human) tragedies and humours of
the long, quiet years among these sunny hills. That whatnot there, the
one of black walnut with the top knocked off, that belonged in the old
days to----

"Charles Baxter," calls my friend Patterson from the roadway, "can you
fix my cupboard?"

"Bring it in," says Charles Baxter, hospitably, and Patterson brings it
in, and stops to talk--and stops--and stops--There is great talk in
Baxter's shop--the slow-gathered wisdom of the country, the lore of
crops and calves and cabinets. In Baxter's shop we choose the next
President of these United States!

You laugh! But we do--exactly that. It is in the Baxters' shops (not in
Broadway, not in State Street) where the presidents are decided upon. In
the little grocery stores you and I know, in the blacksmithies, in the
schoolhouses back in the country!

       *       *       *       *       *

Forgive me! I did not intend to wander away. I meant to keep to my
subject--but the moment I began to talk of politics in the country I was
beset by a compelling vision of Charles Baxter coming out of his shop in
the dusk of the evening, carrying his curious old reflector lamp and
leading the way down the road to the schoolhouse. And thinking of the
lamp brought a vision of the joys of Baxter's shop, and thinking of the
shop brought me naturally around to politics and presidents; and here I
am again where I started!

Baxter's lamp is, somehow, inextricably associated in my mind with
politics. Being busy farmers, we hold our caucuses and other meetings in
the evening and usually in the schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is
conveniently near to Baxter's shop, so we gather at Baxter's shop.
Baxter takes his lamp down from the bracket above his bench, reflector
and all, and you will see us, a row of dusky figures, Baxter in the
lead, proceeding down the roadway to the schoolhouse. Having arrived,
some one scratches a match, shields it with his hand (I see yet the
sudden fitful illumination of the brown-bearded, watchful faces of my
neighbours!) and Baxter guides us into the schoolhouse--with its shut-in
dusty odours of chalk and varnished desks and--yes, leftover lunches!

Baxter's lamp stands on the table, casting a vast shadow of the chairman
on the wall.

"Come to order," says the chairman, and we have here at this moment in
operation the greatest institution in this round world: the institution
of free self-government. Great in its simplicity, great in its
unselfishness! And Baxter's old lamp with its smoky tin reflector, is
not that the veritable torch of our liberties?

This, I forgot to say, though it makes no special difference--a caucus
would be the same--is a school meeting.

You see, ours is a prolific community. When a young man and a young
woman are married they think about babies; they want babies, and what
is more, they have them! and love them afterward! It is a part of the
complete life. And having babies, there must be a place to teach them to
live.

Without more explanation you will understand that we needed an addition
to our schoolhouse. A committee reported that the amount required would
be $800. We talked it over. The Scotch Preacher was there with a plan
which he tacked up on the blackboard and explained to us. He told us of
seeing the stone-mason and the carpenter, he told us what the seats
would cost, and the door knobs and the hooks in the closet. We are a
careful people; we want to know where every penny goes!

"If we put it all in the budget this year what will that make the rate?"
inquires a voice from the end of the room.

We don't look around; we know the voice. And when the secretary has
computed the rate, if you listen closely you can almost hear the buzz of
multiplications and additions which is going on in each man's head as he
calculates exactly how much the addition will mean to him in taxes on
his farm, his daughter's piano his wife's top-buggy.

And many a man is saying to himself:

"If we build this addition to the schoolhouse, I shall have to give up
the new overcoat I have counted upon, or Amanda won't be able to get the
new cooking-range."

That's _real_ politics: the voluntary surrender of some private good for
the upbuilding of some community good. It is in such exercises that the
fibre of democracy grows sound and strong. There is, after all, in this
world no real good for which we do not have to surrender something. In
the city the average voter is never conscious of any surrender. He never
realises that he is giving anything himself for good schools or good
streets. Under such conditions how can you expect self-government? No
service, no reward!

The first meeting that I sat through watching those bronzed farmers at
work gave me such a conception of the true meaning of self-government as
I never hoped to have.

"This is the place where I belong," I said to myself.

It was wonderful in that school meeting to see how every essential
element of our government was brought into play. Finance? We discussed
whether we should put the entire $800 into the next year's budget or
divide it paying part in cash and bonding the district for the
remainder. The question of credit, of interest, of the obligations of
this generation and the next, were all discussed. At one time long ago I
was amazed when I heard my neighbours arguing in Baxter's shop about the
issuance of certain bonds by the United States government: how
completely they understood it! I know now where they got that
understanding. Right in the school meetings and town caucuses where they
raise money yearly for the expenses of our small government! There is
nothing like it in the city.

The progress of a people can best be judged by those things which they
accept as matters-of-fact. It was amazing to me, coming from the city,
and before I understood, to see how ingrained had become some of the
principles which only a few years ago were fiercely-mooted problems. It
gave me a new pride in my country, a new appreciation of the steps in
civilisation which we have already permanently gained. Not a question
have I ever heard in any school meeting of the necessity of educating
every American child--at any cost. Think of it! Think how far we have
come in that respect, in seventy--yes, fifty--years. Universal education
has become a settled axiom of our life.

And there was another point--so common now that we do not appreciate the
significance of it. I refer to majority rule. In our school meeting we
were voting money out of men's pockets--money that we all needed for
private expenses--and yet the moment the minority, after full and honest
discussion, failed to maintain its contention in opposition to the new
building, it yielded with perfect good humour and went on with the
discussion of other questions. When you come to think of it, in the
light of history, is not that a wonderful thing?

One of the chief property owners in our neighbourhood is a rather
crabbed old bachelor. Having no children and heavy taxes to pay, he
looks with jaundiced eye on additions to schoolhouses. He will object
and growl and growl and object, and yet pin him down as I have seen the
Scotch Preacher pin him more than once, he will admit that children ("of
course," he will say, "certainly, of course") must be educated.

"For the good of bachelors as well as other people?" the Scotch
Preacher will press it home.

"Certainly, of course."

And when the final issue comes, after full discussion, after he has
tried to lop off a few yards of blackboard or order cheaper desks or
dispense with the clothes-closet, he votes for the addition with the
rest of us.

It is simply amazing to see how much grows out of these discussions--how
much of that social sympathy and understanding which is the very
tap-root of democracy. It's cheaper to put up a miserable shack of an
addition. Why not do it? So we discuss architecture--blindly, it is
true; we don't know the books on the subject--but we grope for the big
true things, and by our own discussion we educate ourselves to know why
a good building is better than a bad one. Heating and ventilation in
their relation to health, the use of "fad studies"--how I have heard
those things discussed!

How Dr. North, who has now left us forever, shone in those meetings, and
Charles Baxter and the Scotch Preacher--broad men, every one--how they
have explained and argued, with what patience have they brought into
that small schoolhouse, lighted by Charles Baxter's lamp, the grandest
conceptions of human society--not in the big words of the books, but in
the simple, concrete language of our common life.

"Why teach physiology?"

What a talk Dr. North once gave us on that!

"Why pay a teacher $40 a month when one can be had for $30?"

You should have heard the Scotch Preacher answer that question! Many a
one of us went away with some of the education which we had come,
somewhat grudgingly, to buy for our children.

These are our political bosses: these unknown patriots, who preach the
invisible patriotism which expresses itself not in flags and oratory,
but in the quiet daily surrender of private advantage to the public
good.

There is, after all, no such thing as perfect equality; there must be
leaders, flag-bearers, bosses--whatever you call them. Some men have a
genius for leading; others for following; each is necessary and
dependent upon the other. In cities, that leadership is often perverted
and used to evil ends. Neither leaders nor followers seem to
understand. In its essence politics is merely a mode of expressing human
sympathy. In the country many and many a leader like Baxter works
faithfully year in and year out, posting notices of caucuses, school
meetings and elections, opening cold schoolhouses, talking to
candidates, prodding selfish voters--and mostly without reward.
Occasionally they are elected to petty offices where they do far more
work than they are paid for (we have our eyes on 'em); often they are
rewarded by the power and place which leadership gives them among their
neighbours, and sometimes--and that is Charles Baxter's case--they
simply like it! Baxter is of the social temperament: it is the natural
expression of his personality. As for thinking of himself as a patriot,
he would never dream of it. Work with the hands, close touch with the
common life of the soil, has given him much of the true wisdom of
experience. He knows us and we know him; he carries the banner, holds it
as high as he knows how, and we follow.

Whether there can be a real democracy (as in a city) where there is not
that elbow knowledge, that close neighbourhood sympathy, that conscious
surrender of little personal goods for bigger public ones, I don't know.

We haven't many foreigners in our district, but all three were there on
the night we voted for the addition. They are Polish. Each has a farm
where the whole family works--and puts on a little more Americanism each
year. They're good people. It is surprising how much all these Poles,
Italians, Germans and others, are like us, how perfectly human they are,
when we know them personally! One Pole here, named Kausky, I have come
to know pretty well, and I declare I have forgotten that he _is_ a Pole.
There's nothing like the rub of democracy! The reason why we are so
suspicious of the foreigners in our cities is that they are crowded
together in such vast, unknown, undigested masses. We have swallowed
them too fast, and we suffer from a sort of national dyspepsia.

Here in the country we promptly digest our foreigners and they make as
good Americans as anybody.

"Catch a foreigner when he first comes here," says Charles Baxter, "and
he takes to our politics like a fish to water."

The Scotch Preacher says they "gape for education," And when I see
Kausky's six children going by in the morning to school, all their
round, sleepy, fat faces shining with soap, I believe it! Baxter tells
with humour how he persuaded Kausky to vote for the addition to the
schoolhouse. It was a pretty stiff tax for the poor fellow to pay, but
Baxter "figgered children with him," as he said. With six to educate,
Baxter showed him that he was actually getting a good deal more than he
paid for!

Be it far from me to pretend that we are always right or that we have
arrived in our country at the perfection of self-government. I do not
wish to imply that all of our people are interested, that all attend the
caucuses and school-meetings (some of the most prominent never come
near--they stay away, and if things don't go right they blame Charles
Baxter!) Nor must I over-emphasise the seriousness of our public
interest. But we certainly have here, if anywhere in this nation, real
self-government. Growth is a slow process. We often fail in our election
of delegates to State conventions; we sometimes vote wrong in national
affairs. It is an easy thing to think school district; difficult,
indeed, to think State or nation. But we grow. When we make mistakes,
it is not because we are evil, but because we don't know. Once we get a
clear understanding of the right or wrong of any question you can depend
upon us--absolutely--to vote for what is right. With more education we
shall be able to think in larger and larger circles--until we become,
finally, really national in our interests and sympathies. Whenever a man
comes along who knows how simple we are, and how much we really want to
do right, if we can be convinced that a thing _is_ right--who explains
how the railroad question, for example, affects us in our intimate daily
lives, what the rights and wrongs of it are, why, we can understand and
do understand--and we are ready to act.

It is easy to rally to a flag in times of excitement. The patriotism of
drums and marching regiments is cheap; blood is material and cheap;
physical weariness and hunger are cheap. But the struggle I speak of is
not cheap. It is dramatised by few symbols. It deals with hidden
spiritual qualities within the conscience of men. Its heroes are yet
unsung and unhonoured. No combats in all the world's history were ever
fought so high upward in the spiritual air as these; and, surely, not
for nothing!

And so, out of my experience both in city and country, I feel--yes, I
_know_--that the real motive power of this democracy lies back in the
little country neighbourhoods like ours where men gather in dim
schoolhouses and practice the invisible patriotism of surrender and
service.



XIV


THE HARVEST

"Oh, Universe, what thou wishest, I wish."

--_Marcus Aurelius_

I come to the end of these Adventures with a regret I can scarcely
express. I, at least, have enjoyed them. I began setting them down with
no thought of publication, but for my own enjoyment; the possibility of
a book did not suggest itself until afterwards. I have tried to relate
the experiences of that secret, elusive, invisible life which in every
man is so far more real, so far more important than his visible
activities--the real expression of a life much occupied in other
employment.

When I first came to this farm, I came empty-handed. I was the veritable
pattern of the city-made failure. I believed that life had nothing more
in store for me. I was worn out physically, mentally and, indeed,
morally. I had diligently planned for Success; and I had reaped defeat.
I came here without plans. I plowed and harrowed and planted, expecting
nothing. In due time I began to reap. And it has been a growing marvel
to me, the diverse and unexpected crops that I have produced within
these uneven acres of earth. With sweat I planted corn, and I have here
a crop not only of corn but of happiness and hope. My tilled fields have
miraculously sprung up to friends!

This book is one of the unexpected products of my farm. It is this way
with the farmer. After the work of planting and cultivating, after the
rain has fallen in his fields, after the sun has warmed them, after the
new green leaves have broken the earth--one day he stands looking out
with a certain new joy across his acres (the wind bends and half turns
the long blades of the corn) and there springs up within him a song of
the fields. No matter how little poetic, how little articulate he is,
the song rises irrepressibly in his heart, and he turns aside from his
task with a new glow of fulfillment and contentment. At harvest time in
our country I hear, or I imagine I hear, a sort of chorus rising over
all the hills, and I meet no man who is not, deep down within him, a
singer! So song follows work: so art grows out of life!

And the friends I have made! They have come to me naturally, as the corn
grows in my fields or the wind blows in my trees. Some strange potency
abides within the soil of this earth! When two men stoop (there must be
stooping) and touch it together, a magnetic current is set up between
them: a flow of common understanding and confidence. I would call the
attention of all great Scientists, Philosophers, and Theologians to this
phenomenon: it will repay investigation. It is at once the rarest and
the commonest thing I know. It shows that down deep within us, where we
really live, we are all a good deal alike. We have much the same
instincts, hopes, joys, sorrows. If only it were not for the outward
things that we commonly look upon as important (which are in reality not
at all important) we might come together without fear, vanity, envy, or
prejudice and be friends. And what a world it would be! If civilisation
means anything at all it means the increasing ability of men to look
through material possessions, through clothing, through differences of
speech and colour of skin, and to see the genuine man that abides within
each of us. It means an escape from symbols!

I tell this merely to show what surprising and unexpected things have
grown out of my farm. All along I have had more than I bargained for.
From now on I shall marvel at nothing! When I ordered my own life I
failed; now that I work from day to day, doing that which I can do best
and which most delights me, I am rewarded in ways that I could not have
imagined. Why, it would not surprise me if heaven were at the end of all
this!

Now, I am not so foolish as to imagine that a farm is a perfect place.
In these Adventures I have emphasised perhaps too forcibly the joyful
and pleasant features of my life. In what I have written I have
naturally chosen only those things which were most interesting and
charming. My life has not been without discouragement and loss and
loneliness (loneliness most of all). I have enjoyed the hard work; the
little troubles have troubled me more than the big ones. I detest
unharnessing a muddy horse in the rain! I don't like chickens in the
barn. And somehow Harriet uses an inordinate amount of kindling wood.
But once in the habit, unpleasant things have a way of fading quickly
and quietly from the memory.

And you see after living so many years in the city the worst experience
on the farm is a sort of joy!

In most men as I come to know them--I mean men who dare to look
themselves in the eye--I find a deep desire for more naturalness, more
directness. How weary we all grow of this fabric of deception which is
called modern life. How passionately we desire to escape but cannot see
the way! How our hearts beat with sympathy when we find a man who has
turned his back upon it all and who says "I will live it no longer." How
we flounder in possessions as in a dark and suffocating bog, wasting
our energies not upon life but upon _things_. Instead of employing our
houses, our cities, our gold, our clothing, we let these inanimate
things possess and employ us--to what utter weariness. "Blessed be
nothing," sighs a dear old lady of my knowledge.

Of all ways of escape I know, the best, though it is far from
perfection, is the farm. There a man may yield himself most nearly to
the quiet and orderly processes of nature. He may attain most nearly to
that equilibrium between the material and spiritual, with time for the
exactions of the first, and leisure for the growth of the second, which
is the ideal of life.

In times past most farming regions in this country have suffered the
disadvantages of isolation, the people have dwelt far distant from one
another and from markets, they have had little to stimulate them
intellectually or socially. Strong and peculiar individuals and families
were often developed at the expense of a friendly community life:
neighbourhood feuds were common. Country life was marked with the
rigidity of a hard provincialism. All this, however, is rapidly
changing. The closer settlement of the land, the rural delivery of
mails (the morning newspaper reaches the tin box at the end of my lane
at noon), the farmer's telephone, the spreading country trolleys, more
schools and churches, and cheaper railroad rates, have all helped to
bring the farmer's life well within the stimulating currents of world
thought without robbing it of its ancient advantages. And those
advantages are incalculable: Time first for thought and reflection
(narrow streams cut deep) leading to the growth of a sturdy freedom of
action--which is, indeed, a natural characteristic of the man who has
his feet firmly planted upon his own land.

A city hammers and polishes its denizens into a defined model: it
worships standardisation; but the country encourages differentiation, it
loves new types. Thus it is that so many great and original men have
lived their youth upon the land. It would be impossible to imagine
Abraham Lincoln brought up in a street of tenements. Family life on the
farm is highly educative; there is more discipline for a boy in the
continuous care of a cow or a horse than in many a term of school.
Industry, patience, perseverance are qualities inherent in the very
atmosphere of country life. The so-called manual training of city
schools is only a poor makeshift for developing in the city boy those
habits which the country boy acquires naturally in his daily life. An
honest, hard-working country training is the best inheritance a father
can leave his son.

And yet a farm is only an opportunity, a tool. A cornfield, a plow, a
woodpile, an oak tree, will cure no man unless he have it in himself to
be cured. The truth is that no life, and least of all a farmer's life,
is simple--unless it is simple. I know a man and his wife who came out
here to the country with the avowed purpose of becoming, forthwith,
simple. They were unable to keep the chickens out of their summer
kitchen. They discovered microbes in the well, and mosquitoes in the
cistern, and wasps in the garret. Owing to the resemblance of the seeds,
their radishes turned out to be turnips! The last I heard of them they
were living snugly in a flat in Sixteenth Street--all their troubles
solved by a dumb-waiter.

The great point of advantage in the life of the country is that if a man
is in reality simple, if he love true contentment, it is the place of
all places where he can live his life most freely and fully, where he
can _grow_. The city affords no such opportunity; indeed, it often
destroys, by the seductiveness with which it flaunts its carnal graces,
the desire for the higher life which animates every good man.

While on the subject of simplicity it may be well to observe that
simplicity does not necessarily, as some of those who escape from the
city seem to think, consist in doing without things, but rather in the
proper use of things. One cannot return, unless with affectation, to the
crudities of a former existence. We do not believe in Diogenes and his
tub. Do you not think the good Lord has given us the telephone (that we
may better reach that elbow-rub of brotherhood which is the highest of
human ideals) and the railroad (that we may widen our human knowledge
and sympathy)--and even the motor-car? (though, indeed, I have sometimes
imagined that the motor-cars passing this way had a different origin!).
He may have given these things to us too fast, faster than we can bear;
but is that any reason why we should denounce them all and return to
the old, crude, time-consuming ways of our ancestors? I am no
reactionary. I do not go back. I neglect no tool of progress. I am too
eager to know every wonder in this universe. The motor-car, if I had
one, could not carry me fast enough! I must yet fly!

After my experience in the country, if I were to be cross-examined as to
the requisites of a farm, I should say that the chief thing to be
desired in any sort of agriculture, is good health in the farmer. What,
after all, can touch that! How many of our joys that we think
intellectual are purely physical! This joy of the morning that the poet
carols about so cheerfully, is often nothing more than the exuberance
produced by a good hot breakfast. Going out of my kitchen door some
mornings and standing for a moment, while I survey the green and
spreading fields of my farm, it seems to me truly as if all nature were
making a bow to me. It seems to me that there never was a better cow
than mine, never a more really perfect horse, and as for pigs, could any
in this world herald my approach with more cheerful gruntings and
squealings!

But there are other requisites for a farm. It must not be too large,
else it will keep you away from your friends. Provide a town not too far
off (and yet not too near) where you can buy your flour and sell your
grain. If there is a railroad convenient (though not so near that the
whistling of the engines reaches you), that is an added advantage.
Demand a few good old oak trees, or walnuts, or even elms will do. No
well-regulated farm should be without trees; and having secured the
oaks--buy your fuel of your neighbours. Thus you will be blessed with
beauty both summer and winter.

As for neighbours, accept those nearest at hand; you will find them
surprisingly human, like yourself. If you like them you will be
surprised to find how much they all like you (and will upon occasion
lend you a spring-tooth harrow or a butter tub, or help you with your
plowing); but if you hate them they will return your hatred with
interest. I have discovered that those who travel in pursuit of better
neighbours never find them.

Somewhere on every farm, along with the other implements, there should
be a row of good books, which should not be allowed to rust with
disuse: a book, like a hoe, grows brighter with employment. And no farm,
even in this country where we enjoy the even balance of the seasons,
rain and shine, shine and rain, should be devoid of that irrigation from
the currents of the world's thought which is so essential to the
complete life. From the papers which the postman puts in the box flow
the true waters of civilisation. You will find within their columns how
to be good or how to make pies: you will get out of them what you look
for! And finally, down the road from your farm, so that you can hear the
bell on Sunday mornings, there should be a little church. It will do you
good even though, like me, you do not often attend. It's a sort of Ark
of the Covenant; and when you get to it, you will find therein the True
Spirit--if you take it with you when you leave home. Of course you will
look for good land and comfortable buildings when you buy your farm:
they are, indeed, prime requisites. I have put them last for the reason
that they are so often first. I have observed, however, that the joy of
the farmer is by no means in proportion to the area of his arable land.
It is often a nice matter to decide between acres and contentment: men
perish from too much as well as from too little. And if it be possible
there should be a long table in the dining-room and little chairs around
it, and small beds upstairs, and young voices calling at their play in
the fields--if it be possible.

Sometimes I say to myself: I have grasped happiness! Here it is; I have
it. And yet, it always seems at that moment of complete fulfillment as
though my hand trembled, that I might not take it!

I wonder if you recall the story of Christian and Hopeful, how, standing
on the hill Clear (as we do sometimes--at our best) they looked for the
gates of the Celestial City (as we look--how fondly!):

"Then they essayed to look, but the remembrance
of that last thing that the shepherds had showed them
made their hands shake, by means of which impediment
they could not look steadily through the glass:
yet they thought they saw something like the gate, and
also some of the glory of the place."

How often I have thought that I saw some of the glory of the place
(looking from the hill Clear) and how often, lifting the glass, my hand
has trembled!





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