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Title: The Kentucky Warbler
Author: Allen, James Lane
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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THE KENTUCKY WARBLER


[Illustration: "THERE HE WAS--THE KENTUCKY WARBLER!"]


THE KENTUCKY WARBLER

by

JAMES LANE ALLEN

[Illustration: logo]


        _When the population of this immense Western
      Republic will have diffused itself over every acre of
      ground fit for the comfortable habitation of man,
      ... then not a warbler shall flit through our
      thickets, but its name, its notes, its habits will be
      familiar to all--repeated in their sayings and
      celebrated in their village songs._
                                      --ALEXANDER WILSON

With a Frontispiece in Colour



Garden City    New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
1918

Copyright, 1918, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
All Rights Reserved, Including That of
Translation into Foreign Languages,
Including the Scandinavian



                                TO
                        THE YOUNG KENTUCKY
                           FOREST-LOVER



CONTENTS


                            PAGE

    CHAPTER I
        HOME                   3

    CHAPTER II
        SCHOOL                45

    CHAPTER III
        FOREST               100

    CHAPTER IV
        BIRD                 161

    CHAPTER V
        ROAD                 175



                            THE KENTUCKY

                               WARBLER



[Illustration: chapter I--title decoration]


I

THE HOME


Webster, along with thousands of other lusty forward-looking Kentucky
children, went to the crowded public schools.

There every morning against his will but with the connivance of his
parents he was made a prisoner, as it seemed to him, and for long hours
held as such while many things disagreeable or unnecessary, some by
one teacher and some by another, were forced into his head. Soon after
they were forced in most of the things disappeared from the head. What
became of them nobody knew: Webster didn't know and he didn't care.
During the forcing-in process month by month and year by year he now
and then picked up a pleasant idea for himself, some wonderful idea
about great things on ahead in life or about the tempting world just
outside school. He picked up such ideas with ease and eagerness and
held on to them.

He lived in a small white-frame cottage which was rather new but
already looked rather old. It stood in a small green yard, which was
naturally very old but still looked young. The still-young yard and the
already-ageing cottage were to be found--should anybody have tried to
find them--on the rim of the city. If the architectural plan of the
city had been mapped out as an open-air theatre, the cottage would have
been a rear seat in the very last row at the very lowest price. The
block was made up of such cottages--rear seats. They faced the city but
couldn't see the city, couldn't see anything worth seeing, and might as
well have looked in some other direction or not looked at all.

If Webster stepped out of the front door, he was within five yards of
the outmost thoroughfare--native dirt-road for milk wagons, butchers'
wagons, coal carts, and fruit-and-berry wagons. Webster's father
kept an especial eye on the coal carts: they weighed heavily on his
salary. Webster's mother kept her eye on the fruit-and-berry wagons:
they tantalised her passion for preserves. Everybody kept uneasy eyes
on milk and butchers' and vegetable wagons, which brought expensive
satisfaction to appetites for three meals a day. The edges of the
thoroughfare were paths for the cottagers, all of whom walked and
were glad and grateful even to be able to walk. The visitors of the
cottagers walked. Everybody walked but the drivers. The French would
have called the street The Avenue of Soles.

One wet winter morning as Webster, walking beside his father, lifted
his feet out of the mud and felt sorry about their shoes, he complained
because there was no pavement.

"My son," replied his father, whose remarks on any subject appeared
to come out of a clear sky, so unclouded were they by uncertainty,
"my son, your father's salary is not a paved-sidewalk salary. The mud
on your shoes is in an inverse ratio to the funds in his pockets. I
believe you have learned in your arithmetic at school by this time what
ratio is."

One dry summer morning as Webster walked beside his father, a butcher's
wagon whirled past and covered them quickly with dust. He considered
this injury to their best clothes and complained because there was no
watering-cart.

"My son," replied his father out of his daily clear sky, "my salary is
not a watering-cart salary. The presence of the earth's dust in your
eyes exactly equals the lack of gold-dust in your father's earthly
account. I believe by this time you have studied equations."

But if Webster had stepped out of the back door of the cottage and
passed under the clothes-line which was held up at its middle point
by a forked pole, if he had crossed their very small vegetable garden
and then had crossed a wide deep cow-lot where some rich man of the
city pastured his fat milk cows, he would have been on the edge of the
country. It was possible for one standing on the rear porch to see all
summer thick, softly waving woods.

Within the past two or three years, as summer had come again and the
world turned green, a change had taken place in Webster, a growth. More
and more he began to look from the porch or windows at those distant
massed trees. Something from them seemed to cross over to him, an
influence powerful and compelling; it drew him out of the house back
with it into the mystery of the forest and he never returned.

In truth, almost as soon as he could go anywhere he had started toward
the forest without asking permission. They had overtaken him then
and dragged him back. When he was old enough to understand, they had
explained: he was too young, he would get lost, the bull would hook him.

"But why?" Webster had asked, complaining of this new injustice in the
world. He was perpetually being surprised that so many things in the
world were bent on getting one into trouble; all around him things
seemed to be waiting to make trouble. "Why should the bull hook _me_?
_I've_ done nothing to _the bull_."

They were about finishing breakfast. He was eating in his slow ruminant
way--he ate enormously but never hungrily. His father, whose custom it
was to divide the last half of his breakfast with the first half of his
newspaper, lowered the paper and looked over the top.

"My son," he said, "the bull has horns. Every living creature is bound
to use everything it has. Use what you have or lose what you have--that
is the terrible law in this world. Therefore the bull is obliged to
hook what he can to keep his horns going. If you give him the chance,
he will practise them on you. Otherwise his great-great-grandson might
not have any horns when he really needed them. Do you understand?"

"No," said Webster.

"I'll explain again when you are mature enough to comprehend," said his
father, returning to his paper.

Webster returned to the subject.

"If I ever have any money in my pocket, you always tell me not to spend
it: now you say I ought to use whatever I have."

His father quickly lowered his paper and raised his voice:

"I have never said that you must use everything all at once, my son.
You must learn to use it at the right time."

"When _is_ the right time to use a thing?" asked Webster, eating
quietly on.

"I'll answer that question when it is necessary," his father replied
grumblingly from behind his paper, putting an end to the disturbance.

A few weeks prior to this breakfast-scene Webster one day at recess had
laid bare a trouble in himself, confiding it to one of his intimate
school-mates. He did so with a tone of uncertainty, for he was not sure
but he was not being disloyal.

"Can _your_ father answer all the questions _you_ ask _him_?"

"Not half of them!" exclaimed the comrade with splendid candour--"Not
half!"

"My father answers very few _I_ ask _him_," interposed a fragile little
white-faced fellow who had strolled up in time to catch the drift of
the confidential talk. He did not appear strong enough even to put a
question: he nursed a ragged ball, had lost a front tooth, and gave off
the general skim-milk look which some children carry about with them.

Webster, without inquiring further, began to feel a new respect for
himself as not being worse off than other boys as to fathers; also a
new respect for his father as not being worse than his class: fathers
were deficient!

Remembering this discovery at school--one of the big pleasant ideas
he picked up outside lessons--he did not on the morning in question
press his father more closely as to using horns when you have them and
not using money when you have it. In fact, he was already beginning
to shield his father and had quite ceased to interrogate him in
company, lest he expose some ignorance. He therefore credited this
incident where it belonged: as a part of his growing knowledge that
he couldn't look to his father for any great help on things that
puzzled him--fathers, as had been said, being deficient, though always
contriving to look so proficient that from merely surveying them you
would never suspect the truth.

Webster's father was a minor bookkeeper in one of the city's minor
banks. Like his bankbooks, he was always perfectly balanced, perfectly
behaved; and he was also perfectly bald. Even his baldness might have
been credited to him as one of the triumphs of exact calculation:
the baldness of one side being exactly equal to the baldness of the
other: hardly a hair on either exposure stood out as an unaccounted-for
remainder.

Webster thought of his father as having worked at nothing but
arithmetic for nearly forty years. Sometimes it became a kind of
disgust to him to remember this: as was his custom when displeased at
anything he grew contemptuous. In one of his contemptuous moments he
one day asked:

"How many times have you made the figure 2?"

"Three quadrillion times, my son," replied his father with perfect
accuracy and a spirit of hourly freshness. His father went on:

"The same number of times for all of them. When you're in the
thousands, you may think one or the other figure is ahead, but when you
get well on into the millions, there isn't any difference: they are
neck and neck."

This subject of arithmetic was the sorest that father and son could
have broached: perhaps that was the reason why neither could get away
from it. The family lived on arithmetic or off it--had married on it,
were born unto it, were fed by it, housed and heated by it, ventilated
and cooled by it. Webster's father's knowledge of arithmetic had
marched at the head of the family as they made their way through time
and trouble like music. It had been a lifelong bugle-blast of correct
numerals.

Hence the terrible disappointment: after Webster had been at school
long enough for grading to begin to come home as to what faculties
he possessed and the progress he made, his parents discovered to
their terror and shame that he was good in nothing and least good in
arithmetic. It was like a child's turning against his own bread and
butter and shirt and shoes. To his father it meant a clear family
breakdown. The moment had come to him which, in unlike ways, comes to
many a father when he feels obliged to say: "This is no son of mine."

In reality, Webster's father had had somewhat that feeling from the
first. When summoned and permitted, he had tipped into the room on the
day of Webster's birth and taken a father's anxious defensive look. He
had turned off with a gesture of repudiation but of the deepest respect:

"No such head and countenance ever descended to him from me! We must
be square with him from the start! I place to his credit the name of
Daniel Webster. His mother, instead of admiring her husband, had been
gazing too fondly at the steel engraving of the statesman over the
mantelpiece in the parlour."

When Webster was several years old, one day during a meal--nobody knew
just what brought forth the question--he asked:

"Why was I named Webster?"

His father answered:

"Because you looked like him."

Webster got up quietly and went into the parlour and quietly returned
to his seat at table:

"No, I don't look like him," he said.

"You looked like him the day you were born, my son. Any resemblance to
Daniel Webster is apt to become less and less. Finally, you don't look
like him any more. In the United States Senate nowadays, for instance,
there isn't a trace of resemblance left anywhere. Senators at present
look more like me and you know what that means: it means that nobody
need feel obliged to think of Daniel Webster!"

That birthday jest--that he was not quite entitled to the nativity
of his own son, an uneasiness perhaps inherited by fathers from the
rudimentary marriages of primitive society--was but a jest then.
It gradually took on serious meaning as his son grew further away
from him with each year of growth. The bad passing of the arithmetic
milestone had brought the worst distinct shock. Still, even that left
Webster's father perfectly balanced, perfectly behaved: he remained
proud of his unlike offspring, fed and clothed him, and was fond of him.

There is a bare possibility also that in Webster he saw the only chance
to risk part of his salary in secret speculation. Nearly everybody
in the town gambled on something. The bank did not favour the idea
that its employees should enjoy any such monetary pastime. But even a
bank cannot prevent a father from betting on his own son if he keeps
the indiscretion to himself. Thus it is barely possible that, in the
language of the country, Webster's father took chances on Webster as a
winning colt on some unknown track, if he should ever take a notion to
run! Why not bet, if it cost the same as not to bet: at least you had
the excitement?

Webster on his part grew more and more into the belief that his father
not only could not answer his questions but--what was of far greater
consequence--did not open up before him any path in life. His first
natural and warm desire had been to imitate his father, to follow in
his footsteps: slowly he discovered that his father did not have any
footsteps, he made no path. His affection still encircled his father
like a pair of arms; his eyes had completely abandoned him as a
sign-post on life's road.

Mothers often open up roads for their sons or point them out, but
Webster could not look to his mother for one unless he had wished to
take a short road to an uneventful past. The kind of a mother she was
resulted from the kind of a wife she was. She had taken her husband's
arm at marriage to keep step at his side through life. Had he moved
forward, she would have moved forward. Since he did not advance, but in
his life-work represented a kind of perpetual motion without progress,
she stayed by him and busied herself with multifarious daily little
motions of her own. Her roadless life had one main path of memory. That
led her backward to a large orchard and garden and yard out in the
country, filled with fruit trees and berry-bearing bushes and vines.
She, now a middle-aged wife and mother, was a sentimental calendar
of far-away things "just ripe." The procession of fruit-and-berry
wagons past the cottage from May to October had upon her the effect
of an acute exacerbation of this chronic lament. The street cry of a
vendor, no matter how urgent her duty anywhere in the cottage at the
moment, brought her to a front window or to the front porch or even
swept her out to the front gate, to gratify her eyes with memories and
pay her respects to the impossible. She inquired the cost of so much
and bought so little that the drivers, who are keen and unfavourable
judges of human nature, when they met at cross streets and compared
notes--the disappointed, exasperated drivers named her _Mrs. Price_:
though one insisted upon calling her _Lady Not-Today_. Whenever at the
bottom of her pocketbook she found spare change for a box of brilliant,
transparent red cherries, she bore it into the cottage as rapaciously
as some miser of jewels might have carried off a casket of rubies. Thus
you could almost have said that Webster had been born of arithmetic and
preserves. Still, his life with his father and mother was wholesome and
affectionate and peaceful--an existence bounded by the horizon of the
day.

His boyhood certainly had no wide field of vision, no distant horizon,
as regards his sleeping quarters. In building the cottage a bathroom
on the first floor had been added to one side of it as a last luxurious
afterthought. If you stood before the cottage and looked it squarely
in the face, the bathroom protruded on one side like a badly swollen
jaw. The building-plan when worked out, had involved expense beyond
the calculation, as usually happens, and this had threatened the
Salary: the extra bath, therefore, remained unrealised. Webster
always asked at least one question about everything new and untried,
and when old enough to be put there to sleep, he had looked around
the cramped enclosure and inquired why it had been built. Thus he
learned that in the family he had now taken the place of the Bath That
Failed. It caused him a queer feeling as to his general repute in the
neighbourhood that the very sight of him might bring to any observer's
mind thoughts of a missing tub.

His window opened upon a few feet of yard. Just over the fence was the
kitchen window of the cottage next in the row. When that window was
open, Webster had to see the kitchen table and the preparation for
meals. He violently disliked the sight of the preparations. If the
window was closed, tidings as to what was going on reached him through
another sense; his bedroom-bathroom became as a whispering gallery
of cooking odours. But their own kitchen was just across a narrow
hall, and fragrances from it occasionally mingled with those from the
kitchen over the fence. Made hungry by nasal intelligence of something
appetising, Webster would sometimes hurriedly dress and follow his
pointer into the breakfast room, only to find that he was on a false
trail: what he had expected to get his share of was being consumed by
the family next door. He no longer had confidence, so to speak, in his
own nose--not as a leading authority on meals to be eaten by him.

One beautiful use his window had, one glorious use, one enchantment.
In the depth of winter sometimes of mornings when he got out of bed
and went to open the shutter, on the window panes would be a forest
of glittering trees. The first time he beheld such a forest, he stood
before it spell-bound: wondering whether there were silvery birds
singing far off amid the silvery boughs and what wild frost-creatures
crouched in the tall stiff frost-grass. From the ice-forests on his
window panes his thoughts always returned to the green summer forest on
the distant horizon.

The pest of his existence at home was Elinor--a year younger but much
older in her ways: to Webster she was as old as Mischief, as old as
Evil. For Elinor had early fastened herself upon his existence as a
tease. She laughed at him, ridiculed his remarks, especially when he
thought them wise, dragged down everything in him. As they sat at table
and he launched out upon any subject with his father--quite in the
manner of one gentleman indulging his intellect with another gentleman
over their rich viands--Elinor went away up into a little gallery of
her own and tried to boo him off the stage. His father and mother did
not at times conceal their amusement at Elinor's boo's. He sometimes
broke out savagely at her, which only made her worse. His mother, who
was not without gentle firmness and a saving measure of good sense, one
day disapproved of his temper and remarked advisedly to him, Elinor
having fled after a victory over him:

"Elinor teases you because she sees that it annoys you. She ought to
keep on teasing you till you stop being annoyed. When she sees that she
can't tease you, she'll stop trying."

That was all very well: but one day he teased Elinor. She puckered up
and began to cry and his mother said quickly:

"Don't do that, Webster."

Then besides: a few years before he had one day overheard his mother
persuading his father that Elinor must not be sent to the public school.

"I want her to go to a private school. She has such a difficult
disposition, it will require delicate attention. The teachers haven't
time to give her that patient attention in the public schools."

"My dear," Elinor's father had replied, shaking his head, "your
husband's salary is not a private-school salary. It also has a
difficult disposition, it also requires the most careful watching!"

"The cost will be more but she must go. Some extra expense will be
unavoidable even for her clothing but I'll take that out of _my_
clothes."

"You will do nothing of the kind! If Elinor has a difficult
disposition, she gets it from Elinor's father; for _he_ had one once,
thank God! He had it until he went into the bank. But a bank takes
every kind of disposition out of you, good or bad. After you've been
in a bank so many years, you haven't any more disposition. Only the
president of a bank enjoys the right to have a disposition. All the
rest of us are mere habits--certain habits on uncertain salaries. Let
Elinor go to her select school and I'll go a little more ragged. The
outside world thinks it a bank joke when they look through the windows
and see bank clerks at work in ragged coats: instead they know better.
Let Elinor go and let the damages fall on her father. He will be glad
to take the extra cost off his own back as a tribute to his unbanked
boyhood. I hope you noticed my pun--my dooble intender."

Thus Elinor was sent to the most select private school of the city.
Webster weighed the matter on the scales of boyish justice. If you had
a bad disposition, you were rewarded by being better dressed and being
sent to the best school; if you had a good disposition, you dressed
plainly and went to the public school. What ought he to do about his
own disposition? Why not turn it into a bad one? It was among Webster's
bewilderments that he was so poorly off as not to be able to muster a
troublesome enough disposition to be sent to one of the city's select
private schools for boys: he should very much have liked to go!

"I go to a private school because I am _nice_," Elinor had boasted to
him one morning. She was sitting on the front steps as he came out on
his way to school, and she looked very dainty and very charming--a
dark, wiry, fiery, restless little creature, and at the moment a bit of
brilliant decoration. "And I get nice marks," she added pointedly.

He paused to make a quietly contemptuous reply.

"Of course you get nice marks: that's what private schools are for--to
give everybody nice marks. If you went to the public school, you'd get
what you deserved."

"Then you seem to deserve very little," said Elinor, smoothing a lock
of her black hair over one ear.

His rage burst out at her deadly thrust:

"You go to a private school because you are a little devil," he said.

"Why don't you be a little devil too?" inquired Elinor, her bright eyes
mocking him. "Can't you be a little devil too?"

He jerked the strap tighter around his battered books:

"If you were in the public schools, they wouldn't put up with you.
They'd send you home or they'd break you in."

"Oh, I don't know," said Elinor, with an encouraging smile, "they seem
to get along with you very well."

Webster knew that Elinor's teasing, ridiculing eyes followed him as he
walked away. They became part of the things that cheapened him in his
life. When he had passed through the front gate, he started off in a
direction which was not the direction to school.

Elinor sang out shrilly:

"I know where you are going. But it's of no use. Jenny's sweetheart
goes to a private school and he stands well in his classes."

He walked on, but turned his face toward her:

"It's none of _your_ meddlesome business, you little black scorpion,"
he said quietly.

With an upward bound of his nature he thought of Jenny, a very
different sort of girl.

Jenny lived in the largest cottage of the block, at the better of the
two corners. The families visited intimately. Jenny's father was a coal
merchant and Webster's father bought his coal of Jenny's father. A
grocer lived in the middle of the block: he bought supplies from that
grocer. "If you can," he said, "deal with your neighbours. It will
make them more careful: they won't dare ...!" On the contrary, Jenny's
father did not deposit his cheques in Webster's father's bank. "Don't
do your business with a neighbour," he said. "Neighbours pry."

Jenny represented in Webster's life the masculine awakening of his
nature toward womankind. In the white light of that general dawn, she
stood revealed but not recognised. A little thing had happened, the
summer previous, which was of common interest to them. In a corner of
Jenny's yard grew a locust tree, not a full forest-sized locust tree
but still quite a respectable locust tree for its place and advantages.
All around the trunk and up the trunk clambered the trumpet-vine.
Several yards from the earth some of the branches bent over and spread
out as a roof for a little arbour--Jenny's summer play-house.

One dewy morning Jenny had first noticed a humming-bird hovering about
the blossoms. She did not know that it was the ruby-throat, seeking
the trumpet-vine where Audubon painted him. She only knew that she was
excited and delighted. She told Webster.

"If he comes back, run and tell me, will you, Jenny?" he pleaded, with
some strange new joy in him. Several times she had run and summoned
him; and the two children, unconsciously drawing nearer to each other,
and hand in hand watched the ruby-throat hovering about the adopted
flower of the State.

The distant green forest and the locust tree with the trumpet-vine and
the humming-bird--these, though distant from one another, became in
Webster's mind part of something deep and powerful in his life, toward
which he was moving.

If no road opened before him at home, none opened at school. He would
gladly have quit any day. He tried to make lessons appear worse than
they were in order to justify himself in his philosophy of contempt
and rejection.

When any two old ladies met on the street, he argued, they did not
begin to parse as fast as possible at each other. Old gentlemen of the
city did not walk up and down with books glued to their noses, trying
to memorise things they would rather forget. When people went to the
library for delightful books to read, nobody took home arithmetics and
geographies. There wasn't a grown person in the city who cared what
bounded Indiana on the north or if all the creeks in Maine emptied into
the mouths of school teachers. In church, when the minister climbed to
the pulpit, the congregation didn't begin to examine him in history.
They didn't even examine him in the Bible; he couldn't have stood the
examination if they had. In the court-room, at the fair, at the races,
at the theatre, when you were born, when you were playing, when you had
a sweetheart, when you married, when you were a father, when you were
sick, when you were in any way happy or unhappy, when you were dying,
when you were dead and buried and forgotten, nobody called for school
books.

Webster, nevertheless, both at home and at school made his impression.
No one could have defined the nature of the impression but every one
knew he made it. If he failed at his lessons, his teachers were not
angry; they looked mortified and said as little as possible and all
the while pushed him along by hook or crook, until at last they had
smuggled him into high school--the final heaven of the whole torment.

The impression upon his school fellows was likewise strongly in his
favour. Toward the close of each session there was intense struggle and
strain for the highest mark in class and the next highest and the next.
When the nerve-racking race was over and everybody had time to look
around and inquire for Webster, they could see him cantering quietly
down the home stretch, unmindful of the good-natured jeers that greeted
his arrival: he had gone over the course, he had not run. As soon as
they were out of doors in a game, Webster stepped to the front. Those
who had just outstripped him now followed him.

Roadless parents--a child looking for its road in life! That is
Nature's plan to stop imitation, to block the roads of parents to
their children, and force these into new paths for the development
of the individual and of the race. And in what other country is that
spectacle so common as in our American democracy, where progress is
so swift and the future so vast and untrod and untried that nearly
every generation in thousands of cottages represents a revolt and a
revolution of children against their parents, their work and their
ways? But Webster's father and mother were not philosophers as to how
Nature works out her plan through our American democracy: they merely
had their parental apprehensions and confidentially discussed these.
What would Webster be, would he ever be anything? He would finish at
high school this year and it was time to decide.

A son of the grocer in the block had made an unexpected upward stride
in life and surprised all the cottagers. Webster's father and mother
took care to bring this meritorious example to their son's attention.

"What are _you_ going to be, Webster?" his mother asked one morning at
breakfast, looking understandingly at Webster's father.

"I don't know what I'm going to be," Webster had replied unconcernedly.
"I know I'm not going to be what _he_ is!"

"It would never do to try to force him," his father said later. "Not
_him_. Besides, think of a couple of American parents undertaking to
force their children to do anything--_any_ children! We'll have to wait
a while longer. If he's never to be anything, of course forcing could
never make him into something. It would certainly bring on a family
disturbance and the family disturbance would be sure to get on my
nerves at the bank and I might make mistakes in my figures."

Then in the April of that year, about the time the woods were turning
green and he began to look toward them with the old longing now grown
stronger, a great thing happened to Webster.

[Illustration: chapter I--end decoration]



[Illustration: chapter II--title decoration]


II

THE SCHOOL


One clear morning of that budding month of April, a professor from one
of the two institutions of learning in the city stood before the pupils
of the high school.

He was there to fulfill his part of an experimental plan which, through
the courtesy of all concerned, had been started upon its course at
the opening of the session the previous autumn: that members of the
two faculties should be asked to be good enough to come--some one of
them once each month--and address the school on some pleasant field or
by-field of university work, where learning at last meets life. That
is, each professor was requested to appear before the ravenous pupils
of the high school with a basket of ripe fruit from his promised land
of knowledge and to distribute these as samples from an orchard which
each pupil, if he but chose, could some day own for himself. Or if he
could not quite bring anything so luscious and graspable as fruit, he
might at least stand in their full view on the boundary of his kingdom
and mark out, across that dubious Common which lies between high school
and college, a path that would lead a boy straight to some one of the
world's great highways of knowledge.

Eight professors had courteously responded to this invitation and had
disclosed eight splendid roadways of the world's study. The Latin
professor had opened up his colossal Roman-built highway with its
pictures of the ages when all the world's thoroughfares led to Rome.
The professor of Greek had disclosed the longer path which leads back
to Hellas with its frieze of youth in eternal snow. The professor of
Astronomy had taken his band of listeners forth into the immensities
of roadless space and had all but lost them and the poor little earth
itself in the coming and going of myriads of entangled stars. Eight
professors had come, eight professors had gone, it was now April, a
professor of Geology, as next to the last lecturer, stood before them.

Interest in the lectures had steadily mounted from the first and
was now at highest pitch. He faced an audience eager, intelligent,
respectful and grateful. On their part they consented that the man
before them embodied what he had come to teach--the blending of life
and learning. Plainly the study of the earth's rocks had not hardened
him, acquaintance with fossils had not left him a human fossil. And he
hid the number of his years within the sap of living sympathies as a
tree hides the notation of its years within the bark.

Letting his eyes wander over them silently for a moment, he began
without waste of a word--a straightforward and powerful personality.

"I am going to speak to you boys about a boy who never reached high
school. I want you to watch how that boy's life, first seen in the
distance through mist and snow and storm as a faint glimmering spark,
rudely blown upon by the winds of misfortune, endangered and all but
ready to go out--I want you to watch how that endangered spark of a
boy's life slowly begins to brighten in the distance, to grow stronger,
and finally to draw nearer and nearer until at last it shines as a
great light about you here in this very place. Watch, I say, how a
troubled ray, low on life's horizon, at last becomes a star in the
world of men, high fixed and resplendent--to be seen by human eyes as
long as there shall be human eyes to see anything."

He saw that he had caught their attention. Their sympathy reacted upon
him.

"Before I speak of the boy I wish to speak of a book. I hope all of you
have read one of the very beautiful stories of English literature by
George Eliot called _Silas Marner_. If you have, none of you will ever
forget that Silas Marner belonged to a class of pallid, undersized men
who, a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago, under pressure upon
the centres of population in England and through competition of trade,
were driven out of the towns into the country. There, as strangers,
as alien-looking remnants of a discredited race, there in districts
far away among the lanes or in the deep bosom of the hills, perhaps
an hour's ride from any turnpike or beyond the faint sound of the
coach-horn, they spent their lives as obscure weavers and peddlers.

"You will never forget George Eliot's vivid, powerful, touching picture
of Silas Marner at work in a little stone cottage near a deserted
stone pit, amid the nut-bearing hedgerows of the village of Raveloe.
When the schoolboys of the village came to the hedges in autumn to
gather nuts or in spring to look for bird-nests--you boys still do
that, I hope--when they came and heard the uncanny sound of the loom,
so unlike that of the familiar flail on threshing floors, they would
crowd around the windows and peep in at the weaver in his treadmill
attitude, weaving like a solitary spider month after month and year
after year his endless web. Silas Marner, pausing in his work to
adjust some trouble in his thread and discovering them and annoyed by
the intrusion, would descend from the loom and come to his door and
gaze out at them with his strange, blurred, protuberant eyes; for he
was so near-sighted that he could see distinctly only objects close to
him, such as his thread, his shuttle, his loom.

"If for a few days the sound of the loom stopped, it was because the
weaver, with his pack on his feeble shoulders, was away on journeys
through fields and lanes to deliver his linen to those who had ordered
it or who might haply buy.

"The village of Raveloe, as you remember, lay on the rich, central
plain of Merry England, with wooded hollows and well-walled orchards
and ornamental weathercocks and church spires rising peacefully
above green tree-tops. But Silas Marner saw nothing of the Merry
England through which he peddled his cloth. He walked through it all
with the outdoor loneliness of those who cannot see. His mother had
bequeathed him knowledge of a few herbs; and these were the only thing
in nature that he had ever gropingly looked for along hedgerows and
lanesides--foxglove and dandelion and coltsfoot.

"Now, if you have read the story, you have a far more living, touching
picture of the life of a weaver in those distant times that I could
possibly paint. The genius of George Eliot painted it supremely and I
point to her masterpiece rather than to any faint semblance I could
draw. What I want you to do is to get deeply into your minds what the
life of a weaver in those days meant: a little further on you will
understand why.

"Next I want you to think of Silas Marner as an all too common figure
of the present time. He is a type of those of us who go through our
lives all but blind to the surpassingly beautiful life of the planet
on which it is our strange and glorious destiny to spend our human
days. He is a type of those of us who, in town or city, see only
the implements of our trade or business ever close to our eyes--our
shuttle, our thread, our loom, of whatever kind these may be. When we
go out into the world of nature, he is also a type of those of us, who
recognise only the few things we need--our coltsfoot, our foxglove, our
dandelion, of whatever kind these may be. In the midst of woods and
fields we gaze blankly around us with vision blurred by ignorance--not
born blind but remaining as blind because we do not care or have not
learned to open and to train our eyes. We have the outdoor loneliness
of Silas Marner."

He waited a few moments to allow his words to make their impression,
and long accustomed to the countenance of listeners, he felt sure
that they were following him in the road he pursued: then he led them
forward:

"Now, about the period that George Eliot paints the life of her poor
English weaver there lived, not in Merry England but in Bonnie
Scotland--and to be bonnie is not to be merry--there lived in the
little town of Paisley, in the west of Scotland, a man by the name of
Alexander Wilson, a poor illiterate distiller. He had a son--the boy I
am to tell you about.

"The poor illiterate distiller and father desired to give his son
his name but not to assign him his place in life, not his own road;
he named him Alexander and he wished him to be not a distiller but
a physician. The boy's mother was a native of an island of the
Hebrides--your geographies will have to tell you where the Hebrides
are, for doubtless you have all forgotten! The inhabitants of those
wild, bleak, storm-swept islands thought much of danger and death
and therefore often of God. Perhaps the natives of small islands are,
as a rule, either very superstitious or very religious. His mother
desired him to be a minister. You may not know that the Scotch people
are, perhaps, peculiarly addicted to being either doctors of the
body or doctors of the soul. The entire Scottish race would appear
to be desirous of being physicians to something or to somebody--not
submitting easily, however, to be doctored!

"Thus the boy's father and mother opened before him the two main
honoured roads of Scottish life and bade him choose. He chose neither,
for he was self-willed and wavering, and did not know his own mind or
his own wish. He did know that he would not take the roads his parents
pointed out; as to them he was a roadless boy.

"His mother died when he was quite young, a stepmother stepped into a
stepmother's place, and she quickly decided with Scotch thrift. A third
Scottish road should be opened to the boy and into that he should be
pushed and made to go: he must be put to trade. Accordingly, when he
was about eleven years old, he was taken from school and bound as an
apprentice to a weaver: we lament child labour now: it is an old lament.

"The boy hated weaving as, perhaps, he never hated anything else in
his life and in time he hated much and he hated many things. He seems
soon to have become known as the lazy weaver. Years afterward he put
into bitter words a description of the weaver: 'A weaver is a poor,
emaciated, helpless being, shivering over rotten yarn and groaning over
his empty flour barrel.' Elsewhere he called the weaver a scarecrow in
rags. He wrote a poem entitled _Groans from the Loom_.

"Five interminable years of those groans and all his eager, wild,
headstrong, liberty-loving boyhood was ended: gone from him as he sat
like a boy-spider with a thread passing endlessly into a web. During
these interminable years, whenever he lifted his eyes from his loom
and looked ahead, he could see nothing but penury and dependence and
loneliness--his loom to the end of his life.

"Five years of this imprisonment and then he was eighteen and his own
master; and the first thing he did was to descend from the loom, take a
pack of cloth upon his shoulders and go wandering away from the hills
and valleys and lakes of Scotland--free at last like a young deer in
the heather. He said of himself that from that hour when his eyes had
first opened on the light of grey Scotch mountains, the world of nature
had called him. He did not yet know what the forest and the life of the
forest meant or would ever mean; he only knew that there he was happy
and at home.

"Thus, like Silas Marner, he became a poor weaver and peddler but not
with Silas Marner's eyes. Seldom in any human head has the mechanism of
vision been driven by a mind with such power and eagerness to observe.
And he had the special memory of the eye. There are those of us who
have the special memory of the ear or of taste or of touch. He had the
long, faithful recollection of things seen. With this pair of eyes
during the next several years he traversed on foot three-fourths of
Scotland. Remember, you boys of the rolling bluegrass plateau, what the
scenery of Scotland is! Think what it meant to traverse three-fourths
of that country, you who consider it a hardship to walk five level
miles, a misfortune to be obliged to walk ten, the adventure of a
lifetime to walk twenty.

"But though he followed one after another well nigh all the roads of
Scotland, he could find in all Scotland no road of life for him. It
is true that certain misleading paths beckoned to him, as is apt
to be true in every life. Thus he had conceived a great desire to
weave poetry instead of cloth, to weave music instead of listening to
the noise of the loom: he had his flute and his violin. But what he
accomplished with poetry and flute and violin were obstacles to his
necessary work and rendered this harder. The time he gave to them made
his work less: the less his work, the less his living; the less his
living, the more his troubles and hardships.

"Once he started out both to peddle his wares and to solicit orders for
a little book of his poems he wished to publish. To help both pack and
poetry he wrote a handbill in verse. Some of the lines ran thus:

    "'Here's handkerchiefs charming, book muslins like ermine,
      Brocaded, striped, corded, or checked.
    Sweet Venus, they say, on Cupid's birthday
      In British-made muslin was decked.

    "'Now, ye Fair, if you choose any piece to peruse,
      With pleasure I'll instantly show it.
    If the peddler should fail to be favoured with sale,
      Then I hope you'll encourage the poet.'

"The result seems to have been but small sale for British-made muslins
and no sale at all for Wilson-made poems.

"Robert Burns was just then the idolised poet of Scotland, a new
sun shining with vital splendour into all Scottish hearts. Friends
of the young weaver and apparently the young weaver himself thought
there was room in Scotland for another Burns. Some of his poems were
published anonymously and the authorship was attributed to Burns. That
was bad for him, it made bad worse. Wilson greatly desired to know
the rustic poet-king of Scotland. The two poets met in Edinburgh and
were to become friends. Then Burns published _Tam O'Shanter_. As young
Kentuckians, of course, you love horses and cannot be indifferent even
to poems on the tails of horses. Therefore, you must already know the
world's most famous poem concerning a horse-tail--_Tam O'Shanter_.
The Paisley weaver by this time had such conceit of himself as a poet
that he wrote Burns a caustic letter, telling him the kind of poem
_Tam O'Shanter_ should and should not be. Burns replied, closing the
correspondence, ending the brief friendship and leaving the weaver to
go back to his loom. It was a terrible rebuff, and left its mark on an
already discouraged man.

"Next Wilson wrote an anonymous poem, so violently attacking a wealthy
manufacturer on behalf of his poor brother weavers, that the enraged
merchant demanded the name of the writer and had him put in prison and
compelled him to stand in the public cross of Paisley and burn his poem.

"Darker, bitterer days followed. He shrank away to a little village
even more obscure than his birthplace. There, lifting his eyes, again
he looked all over Scotland: he saw the wrongs and sufferings of the
poor, the luxury and oppression of the rich: he blamed the British
government for evils inherent in human nature and for the imperfections
of all human society: turned against his native country and at heart
found himself without a fatherland.

"Then that glorious vision which has opened before so many men in their
despair, disclosed itself: his eyes turned to America. You should never
forget that from the first your country has been the refuge and the
hope for the oppressed, the unfortunate, the discouraged of the whole
world. In America he thought all roads were open, new roads were being
made for human lives; that should become his country. One autumn he
saw in a newspaper an advertisement that an American merchantman would
sail from Belfast the following spring and he turned to weaving and
wove as never before to earn his passage money. At this time he lived
on one shilling a week! And it seems that just now he undertook to make
up his lack of knowledge of arithmetic. Some of you boys will doubtless
greatly rejoice to hear that he was deficient in arithmetic! When
spring came, with the earnings of his loom he walked across Scotland
to the nearest port. When he reached Belfast every berth on the vessel
had been taken: he asked to be allowed to sleep on the deck and was
accepted as a passenger.

"He had now left Scotland to escape the loom--never to see Scotland
again.

"And you see, he is beginning to come nearer.

"The vessel was called The Swift and it took The Swift two months
to make the passage. The port was to be Philadelphia but he seems
to have been so impatient to set foot on the soil of the New World
that he left the ship at New Castle, Delaware. He had borrowed from a
fellow-passenger sufficient money to pay his expenses while walking to
Philadelphia thirty-four miles away; and with this in his pocket and
his fowling-piece on his shoulder he disappeared in the July forests of
New Jersey. The first thing he did was to kill a red-headed wood-pecker
which he declared to be the most beautiful bird he had ever seen.

"I do not find any word of his that he had ever killed a bird in
Scotland during all his years of wandering. Now the first event that
befell him in the New World was to go straight to the American woods
and kill what he declared to be the most beautiful bird he had ever
seen. This might naturally have been to him a sign of his life-road.
But he still stood blinded in his path, with not a plan, not an idea,
of what he should be or could be: he had not yet read the handwriting
on the wall within himself.

"His first years in the New World were more disastrous than any in
Scotland, for always now he had the loneliness and dejection of a man
who has rejected his own country and does not know that any other
country will accept him. A fellow Scot, in Philadelphia, tried him at
copper-plate printing. He quickly dropped this and went back to the
old dreadful work of weaving--he became an American weaver and went
wandering through the forests of New Jersey as a peddler: at least
peddling left him free to roam the forests. Next he tried teaching
but he himself had been taken from school at the age of eleven and
must prepare himself as one of his own beginners. He did not like this
teaching experiment in New Jersey and migrated to Virginia. Virginia
did not please him and he remigrated to Pennsylvania. There he tried
one school after another in various places and finally settled on the
outskirts of Philadelphia: here was his last school, for here was the
turning point of his life.

"I wish I had time to describe for you the school-house with its
surroundings, for the place is to us now a picture in the early
American life of a great man--all such historic pictures are
invaluable. Catch one glimpse of it: a neat stone school-house on a
sloping green; with grey old white oaks growing around and rows of
stripling poplars and scattered cedar trees. A road ran near and not
far away was a little yellow-faced cottage where he lived. The yard was
walled off from the road and there were seats within and rosebushes and
plum trees and hop-vines. On one side hung a signboard waving before a
little roadside inn; on the other a blacksmith shop with its hammering.
Not far off stood the edge of the great forest 'resounding with the
songs of warblers.' In the depths of it was a favourite spot--a secret
retreat for him in Nature.

"There then you see him: no longer a youth but still young; every road
he had tried closed to him in America as in Scotland: not a doctor, not
a minister, not a good poet, not a good flutist, not a good violinist,
not a copper-plate engraver, not a willing weaver, not a willing
peddler, not a willing school-teacher--none of these. No idea yet in
him that he could ever be anything. A homeless self-exile, playing
at lonely twilights on flute and violin the loved airs of rejected
Scotland.

"Now it happened that near his school was a botanical garden owned by
an American naturalist. The American, seeing the stranger cast down by
his aimless life, offered him his portfolio of drawings and suggested
that he try to draw a landscape, draw the human figure. The Scotch
weaver, the American school-teacher, tried and disastrously failed. As
a final chance the American suggested that he try to draw a bird. He
did try: he drew a bird. He drew again. He drew again and again. He
kept on drawing. Nothing could keep him from drawing. And there at last
the miracle of power and genius, so long restless in him and driving
him aimlessly from one wrong thing to another wrong thing, disclosed
itself as dwelling within his eyes and hands. His drawings were so true
to life, that there could be no doubt: the road lay straight before him
and ran clear through coming time toward eternal fame.

"All the experience which he had been unconsciously storing as a
peddler in Scotland now came back to him as guiding knowledge. The
marvelous memory of his eye furnished its discipline: from early
boyhood through sheer love he had unconsciously been studying birds in
nature, and thus during all these wretched years had been laying up as
a youth the foundation of his life-work as a man.

"Genius builds with lavish magnificence and inconceivable swiftness;
and hardly had he succeeded with his first drawings before he had
wrought out a monumental plan: to turn himself free as soon as possible
into the vast, untravelled forest of the North American continent and
draw and paint its birds. Other men, he said, would have to found the
cities of the New World and open up its country. His study was to be
the lineaments of the owl and the plumage of the lark: he had cast in
his lot with Nature's green magnificence untouched by man."

The lecturer paused, as a traveller instinctively stops to look
around him at a pleasant turn of his road. It had, in truth, been a
hard, crooked human road along which he had been leading his young
listeners--a career choked at every step by inward and outward
pressures. He had not failed to notice the change in every countenance,
the brightening of every eye, as soon as his audience discovered that
they were listening to a story, not of mere weaknesses and failures,
but of the misfortunes and mistakes of a man, who at last stood out as
truly great. This hapless weaver, this aimless wanderer through the
forests of two worlds, after all had success in him, strength in him,
genius in him, fame in him! He was a hero. Henceforth they were alive
with curiosity for the rest of the story which would bring the distant
hero to Kentucky, to their Lexington.

The lecturer realised all this. But he had for some time been even
more acutely aware that something wholly personal and extraordinary
was taking place: one of the pupils of the high school was listening
with an attention so absorbed and noticeable as to set him apart from
all the rest. Just at what point this intense attention had been so
aroused, had not been observed; but when once observed, there was no
forgetting it: it filled the room, the other listeners were merely
grouped around it as accessories and helped to make its breathless
picture.

The particularly interested pupil sat rather far back in the
school-room, near a window--as though from a vain wish to jump out and
be free. The morning light thus fell across his face: it was possible
to watch its expression, its responsive change of light at each turn
of the story. He seemed to hold some kind of leadership in the school:
other pupils occasionally turned their faces to glance at him, to keep
in touch with him: he did not return their glances--being their leader;
or he had forgotten them for the story he was hearing.

The lecturer became convinced that what had more than once happened to
him before as a teacher was happening again: before him a young life
was unexpectedly being solved--to its own wonderment and liberation, to
its amazement and joy.

That perpetual miracle in nature--the contexture of the
generations--the living taking the meaning of their lives from the
dead! You stand beside some all but forgotten mound of human ashes;
before you are arrayed a band of youths, unconsciously holding in their
hands the unlighted torches of the future. You utter some word about
the cold ashes and silently one of them walks forward to the ashes,
lights his torch and goes his radiant way.

Thus the Geologist felt a graver responsibility resting on him--placed
there by one of them, more than by all of them: the words he was
speaking might or might not give final direction to a whole career. He
went on with his heroic narrative more glowingly, more guardedly:

"For a while he must keep on teaching in order to live: he taught all
day, often after night, barely had time to swallow his meals, at the
end of one term tells us he had as large a sum as fifteen dollars.
Often he coloured his first drawings by candle light, drew and painted
birds without knowing what they were. Drawing and painting by candle
light!--but now he had within himself the risen sun of a splendid
enthusiasm. That sun kindled his schoolboys. They found out what he
wanted and helped. One boy brought him a large basketful of crows.
Another caught a mouse in school and contributed that--the incident
is worth quoting by showing that the boy preferred a mouse to a
school-book.

"Take one instance of the energy with which he was now working and
worked for the rest of his life: he wished to see Niagara Falls, and
to lose no time while doing it he started out one autumn through the
forest to walk to the Falls and back, a short trip for him of over
twelve hundred miles. He reached home 'mid the deep snows of winter
with no soles to his boots. What of that? On his way back he had shot
two strange birds in the valley of the Hudson! For ten days--ten days,
mind you!--he worked on a drawing of these and sent it with a letter
to Thomas Jefferson. You may as yet have thought of Jefferson only as
one of America's earliest statesmen: begin now to think of him as one
of the first American naturalists. And if you wish to read a courteous
letter from an American President to a young stranger, go back to
Jefferson's letter to the Scotch weaver who sent him the drawing of a
jaybird.

"Pass rapidly over the next few years. He has made one trip from
Maine down the Atlantic Seaboard to the South. He has returned and is
starting out again to cover the vast interior basin of the Mississippi
Valley: he is to begin at Pittsburgh and end at New Orleans.

"Now again you see that he is coming nearer--nearer to you here.

"Look then at this bold, splendid picture of him outlined against the
background of early American life. All such pictures are part of our
richest heritage.

"The scene is Pittsburgh. He has ransacked the winter woods for new
species, he has found only sparrows and snow-birds. That was the year
1810; this is the year 1916--over a hundred years later in the history
of our country. Gaze then upon this wild scene of the olden time, all
such pictures are good for young eyes: it is the twenty-fourth of
February: the river, swollen with the spring flood, is full of white
masses of moving ice. A frail skiff puts off from shore and goes
winding its way until it is lost to sight among the noble hills.

"They warned him of his danger, urged him to take a rower, urged him not
to go at all. Those who risked the passage of the river floated down on
barges called Kentucky arks or in canoes hollowed each out of a single
tree, usually the tulip tree, which you know is very common in our
Kentucky woods. But to mention danger was to make him go to meet it. He
would have no rower, had no money to hire one, had he wished one. He
tells us what he had on board: in one end of the boat some biscuit and
cheese, a bottle of cordial given him by a gentleman in Pittsburgh, his
gun and trunk and overcoat; at the other end himself and his oars and
a tin with which to bail out the skiff, if necessary, to keep it from
sinking and also to use as his drinking-cup to dip from the river.

"That February day--the swollen, rushing river, the masses of white
ice--the solitary young boatman borne away to a new world on his great
work: his heart expanding with excitement and joy as he headed toward
the unexplored wilderness of the Mississippi Valley.

"Wondrous experiences were his: from the densely wooded shores there
would reach him as he drifted down, the whistle of the red bird--those
first spring notes so familiar and so welcome to us on mild days toward
the last of February. Away off in dim forest valleys, between bold
headlands, he saw the rising smoke of sugar camps. At other openings
on the landscape, grotesque log cabins looked like dog-houses under
impending mighty mountains. His rapidly steered skiff passed flotillas
of Kentucky arks heavily making their way southward, transporting men
and women and children--the moving pioneers of the young nation: the
first river merchant-marine of the new world: carrying horses and
plows to clearings yet to be made for homesteads in the wilderness;
transporting mill-stones for mills not yet built on any wilderness
stream; bearing merchandise for the pioneers who in this way got their
clothing until they could grow flax and weave to clothe themselves.
Thus in the Alps of the Alleghenies he came upon the river peddlers of
America as years before amid the Alps of Scotland he had come upon the
foot peddlers of his own land. On the river were floating caravans of
men selling shawls and muslins. He boarded a number of these barges; as
they approached a settlement, they blew a trumpet or a lonely horn on
the great river stillness.

"The first night he drew in to shore some fifty miles down at a
riverside hovel and tried to sleep on the only bed offered him--some
corn-stalks. Unable to sleep, he got up before day and pushed out again
into the river, listening to the hooting of the big-horned owl echoing
away among the dawn-dark mountains, or to the strangely familiar
crowing of cocks as they awoke the hen roosts about the first American
settlements in the West.

"He records what to us now sounds incredible, that on March fifth he
saw a flock of parrokeets. Think of parrokeets on the Ohio River in
March! Of nights it turned freezing cold and he drew liberally on his
bottle of cordial for warmth. Once he encountered a storm of wind and
hail and snow and rain, during which the river foamed and rolled like
the sea and he had to make good use of his tin to keep the skiff bailed
out till he could put in to shore. The call of wild turkeys enticed him
now toward the shore of Indiana, now toward the shore of Kentucky, but
before he reached either they had disappeared. His first night on the
Kentucky shore he spent in the cabin of a squatter and heard him tell
tales of bear-treeing and wildcat-hunting and wolf-baiting. All night
wolves howled in the forests near by and kept the dogs in an uproar;
the region swarmed with wolves and wildcats 'black and brown.'

"On and on, until at last the skiff reached the rapids of the Ohio
at Louisville and he stepped ashore and sold his frail saviour craft
which, at starting, he had named the Ornithologist. The Kentuckian who
bought it as the Ornithologist accepted the droll name as that of some
Indian chief. He soon left Louisville, having sent his baggage on by
wagon, and plunged into the Kentucky forest on his way to Lexington.

"And now, indeed, you see he is coming nearer.

"It was the twenty-fourth of March when he began his first trip
southward through the woods of Kentucky. Spring was on the way but had
not yet passed northward. Nine-tenths of the Kentucky soil, he states,
was then unbroken wilderness. The surface soil was deeper than now.
The spring thaw had set in, permeating the rich loam. He describes
his progress through it as like travelling through soft soap. The
woods were bare as yet, though filled with pigeons and squirrels and
wood-peckers. On everything he was using his marvellous eyes: looking
for birds but looking at all human life, interested in the whole life
of the forest. He mentions large corn fields and orchards of apple and
of peach trees. Already he finds the high fences, characteristic of
the Kentuckians. He turned aside once to visit a roosting place of the
passenger pigeon.

"It was on March twenty-ninth that, emerging from the thick forest,
he saw before him the little Western metropolis of the pioneers, the
city of the forefathers of many of us here today--Lexington. I wish I
could stop to describe to you the picture as he painted it: the town
stretching along its low valley; a stream running through the valley
and turning several mills--water mills in Lexington a hundred years
ago! In the market-place which you now call Cheapside he saw the
pillory and the stocks and he noted that the stocks were so arranged as
to be serviceable for gallows: our Kentucky forefathers arranged that
they should be conveniently hanged, if they deserved it, as a public
spectacle of warning.

"On a country court day he saw a thousand horses hitched around the
courthouse square and in churchyards and in graveyards. He states that
even then Kentucky horses were the most remarkable in the world.

"He makes no mention of one thing he must have seen, but was perhaps
glad to forget--the weavers and the busy looms; for in those days
Kentuckians were busy making good linen and good homespun, as in
Paisley.

"He slept while in Lexington--this great unknown man--in a garret
called Salter White's, wherever that was: and he shivered with cold,
for you know we can have chill nights in April. He says that he had
no firewood, it being scarce, the universal forest of firewood being
half a mile away: this was like going hungry in a loft over a full
baker-shop.

"And I must not omit one note of his on the Kentuckians themselves,
which flashes a vivid historic light on their character. By this time
he rightly considered that he had had adventures worth relating; but
he declares that if he attempted to relate them to any Kentuckian, the
Kentuckian at once interrupted him and insisted upon relating his own
adventures as better worth while. Western civilization was of itself
the one absorbing adventure to every man who had had his share in it.

"Here I must pause to intimate that Wilson all his life carried with
him one bird--one vigourous and vociferous bird--a crow to pick. He
picked it savagely with Louisville. But he had begun to pick it with
Scotland. He had picked it with Great Britain and with New Jersey
and Virginia. In New England the feathers of the crow fairly flew. In
truth, civilization never quite satisfied him; wild nature alone he
found no fault with--there only was he happy and at home. He now picked
his crow with Lexington. Afterward an indignant Kentuckian, quite in
the good Kentucky way, attacked him and left the crow featherless--as
regards Lexington.

"On the fourteenth day of April he departed from Lexington, moving
southward through the forest to New Orleans. Scarcely yet had the woods
begun to turn green. He notes merely the white blossoms of the redroot
peeping through the withered leaves, and the buds of the buckeye. With
those sharp eyes of his he observed that wherever a hackberry tree had
fallen, cattle had eaten the bark.

"And now we begin to take leave of him: he passes from our picture. We
catch a glimpse of him standing on the perpendicular cliffs of solid
limestone at the Kentucky River, green with a great number of uncommon
plants and flowers--we catch a glimpse of him standing there, watching
bank swallows and listening to the faint music of the boat horns in the
deep romantic valley below, where the Kentucky arks, passing on their
way southward, turned the corners of the verduous cliffs as the musical
gondolas turn the corners of vine-hung Venice in the waters of the
Adriatic.

"On and on southward; visiting a roosting-place of the passenger
pigeon which was reported to him as forty miles long: he counted
ninety nests in one beech tree. We see him emerging upon the Kentucky
barrens which were covered with vegetation and open for the sweep of
the eye.

"Now, at last, he begins to meet the approach of spring in full tide:
all Nature is bursting into leaf and blossom. No longer are the redbud
and the dogwood and the sassafras conspicuous as its heralds. And now,
overflowing the forest, advances the full-crested wave of bird-life
up from the south, from the tropics. New and unknown species are
everywhere before his eyes; their new melodies are in his ears; he is
busy drawing, colouring, naming them for his work.

"So he passes out of our picture: southward bound, encountering
a cloud of parrakeets and pigeons, emerging from a cave with a
handkerchief full of bats, swimming creeks, sleeping at night alone in
the wilderness, his gun and pistol in his bosom. He vanishes from the
forest scene, never from the memory of mankind.

"Let me tell you that he did not live to complete his work. Death
overtook him, not a youth but still young; for, as a Roman of the
heroic years deeply said: 'Death always finds those young who are still
at work for the future of the world.'

"I told you I was going to speak to you of a boy's life. I asked you
to fix your eyes upon it as a far-off human spark, barely glimmering
through mist and fog but slowly, as the years passed, getting
stronger, growing brighter, always drawing nearer until it shone about
you here as a great light and then passed on, leaving an eternal glory.

"I have done that.

"You saw a little fellow taken from school at about the age of eleven
and put to hard work at weaving; now you see one of the world's
great ornithologists, who had traversed some ten thousand miles of
comparative wilderness--an imperishable figure, doing an imperishable
deed. I love to think of him as being in the end what he most hated to
be in the beginning--a weaver: he wove a vast, original tapestry of the
bird-life of the American forest.

"As he passed southward from Lexington that distant April of 1810,
encountering his first spring in the Ohio valley with its myriads of
birds, somewhere he discovered a new and beautiful species of American
wood warbler and gave it a local habitation and a name.

"He called it the Kentucky Warbler.

"And now," the lecturer said, by way of climax, "would you not like to
see a picture of that mighty hunter who lived in the great days of the
young American republic and crossed Kentucky in the great days of the
pioneers? And would you not also like to see a picture of the exquisite
and only bird that bears the name of our State--the Kentucky Warbler?"

He passed over to them a portrait engraving of Alexander Wilson in the
dress of a gentleman of his time, his fowling-piece on his forearm.
And along with this he delivered to them a life-like, a singing
portrait, of the warbler, painted by a great American animal painter
and bird painter--Fuertes.

[Illustration: chapter II--end decoration]



[Illustration: chapter III--title decoration]


III

THE FOREST


It was the first day of vacation.

Schools, if you were not through with them, had now become empty,
closed, silent buildings, stripped of authority to imprison and bedevil
you and then mark you discreditably because you righteously rebelled
against being imprisoned and bedeviled. They could safely be left to
dust and cobwebs within and to any weeds that might lodge and sprout
outside--the more the better. You stood on the spring edge of the
long, free, careless summer and could look unconcernedly across at the
distant autumn edge. Then as the woods, now in their first full green,
were beginning to turn dry and yellow, the powerless buildings would
again become tyrannical schools.

But if you had finished high school, on this first day of vacation you
were on the Boy's Common: schools behind you, the world of business
around you, ahead of you ambitious college or the stately University.
Webster had been turned loose on the Boy's Common.

       *       *       *       *       *

The family were at breakfast. Every breakfast in the cottage was much
the same breakfast: routine is the peace of the roadless. Existence
there throughout the year was three hundred and sixty-five times more
or less like itself. The earth meantime did change for the signs of
the zodiac: the cottage changed also, but had a zodiac of its own.
Thus, when the planet was in the sign of _Capricornus_, the cottage
on a morning had fried perch for breakfast, as a sign that it was in
_Pisces_; when earth was in _Gemini_, the family might have a steak
which showed that it was in _Taurus_--or that _Taurus_ was in the
family.

There was always hot meat of one kind and hot bread of two kinds and
hot coffee of any kind. If Webster's father upon entering the breakfast
room had not seen a dish before him to carve or apportion, the shock
could not have been greater, had he found lying on his folded napkin
an enclosure from the bank notifying him that he had been discharged
for having made the figure four instead of the figure two.

He sat squarely facing the table as long as his own portion of the meat
lasted, meantime eating rapidly and bending over to glance at his paper
which lay flat beside his coffee cup. With the final morsel of meat he
turned sidewise and sat cross-legged, with his paper held before his
face as a screen--notification that he would rather not talk at the
moment, unless they preferred.... If they showed that they did prefer,
he still had means to discourage their preference. Now and then he
reached around toward his plate and groped for the remaining crumbs of
bread, or hooked his forefinger in the handle of his cup and conveyed
it behind the paper.

Webster's mother, busied with service at the tray, commenced her
breakfast after the others. She talked to her husband until he
interposed his newspaper. Then she unconsciously lowered her voice and
addressed remarks to the children. Occasionally she tried to arrange
their dissensions.

A satirist of human life, studying Webster's father and mother at the
head and foot of the table--symbol at once of their opposition and
conjunction--a satirist, who for his own amusement turns life into
pictures of something else, might have described their bodily and
pictorial relation as that of a large, soft deep-dished pudding to a
well trimmed mutton chop. Their minds he would possibly have imagined
as two south winds moving along, side by side; whatever else they blew
against, they could not possibly blow against each other.

On this fine June morning, the first day of his vacation, Webster was
late for breakfast. He arranged to be late. From his bathroom-bedroom
he could hear the family with their usual morning talk, Elinor's
shrill chatter predominating. When her chatter ceased he would know
that she had satisfied her whimsical appetite and had slipped from
her chair, impatient either to get to the front porch with its creaky
rocking-chair or to dart out the gate to other little girls in the
block; restlessly seeking some adventure elsewhere if none should pass
before her eyes at home.

He waited till she should go; there was something especial to speak
of with his father and he did not wish this to be spoiled by Elinor's
interference and ridicule.

When she was gone he went in to breakfast.

"Well, my son, how are you going to spend your first day of vacation?"
his father inquired, helping him to his portion and not particularly
noticing his own question.

"I thought I'd go over into the woods," Webster replied.

An unfavourable silence followed this announcement. That old stubborn
controversy about the woods!...

"Father," asked Webster, with his eyes on his plate, "did you ever see
the Kentucky warbler?"

Webster's father looked over the top of the wood-pulp screen. His face
had a somewhat vacant expression. He waited. Finally he said:

"My son, I believe you asked me a question: I shall have to ask you to
repeat your question; I may be losing my hearing or I may be losing my
mind. You asked me--?"

Webster, in the same deliberate tone, repeated his question:

"Did you ever see the Kentucky warbler?"

Webster's father looked over his spectacles at Webster's mother as with
the air of an appeal for guidance:

"My dear, your son asks me, if I understand him, whether I have ever
seen a Kentucky wooden war horse?"

He was not above fun-making and it seemed to him that the occasion
called for it.

Webster's mother explained:

"One of the professors from the University lectured to them in April
about birds. His head has been full of birds ever since: I shouldn't
wonder if his dreams have been full of them." She looked at Webster not
without ineradicable tenderness and pride; she could not quite have
explained the pride, she could have explained the tenderness.

Now the truth of the matter was that since that memorable morning
of the April talk at high school, she had been hearing from Webster
repeatedly on that subject. He had told her of the lecture immediately
upon reaching home; she had never seen him so wrought up. And from that
time he had upon occasion plied her with questions: as to what she knew
of birds when she lived in the country. She had to tell him that she
knew very little; everybody identified the several species that preyed
upon fruit and berries and young chickens; she named these readily
enough. She had never heard of a bird called the Kentucky warbler. And
she had never heard of Alexander Wilson.

All this she had duly narrated to Webster's father--greatly to his
dejection. A bank officer with a solitary son, now graduated from high
school, going after bird-nests--that was a prospect before such a
father! He had shaken his head in silence that more than spoke.

"I told him," Webster's mother had concluded, "that the only Wilsons
worth knowing in Kentucky were the horse-people Wilsons: of course we
know _them_. It has been amusing to watch Elinor. Whenever Webster has
begun about birds, if she has overheard him, she has made it convenient
to settle somewhere near and listen. She would break in and stop his
questions, but then there would be no more entertainment for her. She
has been a study."

Thus Webster's father was not so ill-informed as he now appeared. In
return for the information from Webster's mother, apparently for the
first time imparted, he looked at his son with an expression which
plainly meant that as a speculation the latter was becoming a graver
risk.

"No, my son," he said, "I have never met your forest friend. I am
merely a Kentucky bank warbler. One who did his warbling years ago.
There is some _war_ left in me. I suppose there will always be _war_
left in me, but there isn't any _war_-ble. I warbled one distant
solitary spring to your mother. She replied beautifully in kind and
lavishly in degree. We made a nest and had a hatching. Since then
the male bird has been trying--not to escape the consequences of his
song--but to meet his notes like a man. I have never stumbled upon your
forest friend."

Webster ate in silence for a few moments and then remarked, as though
it were a matter of vital importance:

"His notes are:

"'_Tweedle tweedle tweedle, Tweedle tweedle tweedle_,' Wilson described
them that way a hundred and six years ago."

"I don't doubt it, my son. I am not questioning your word--nor Mr.
Wilson's. But I don't see anything very remarkable in that: if you come
to the bank any day, you can hear men say the same thing. They come in
and say, 'Tweedle.' And they go out."

Webster continued:

"Audubon described the notes as '_Turdle turdle turdle_.'"

Deeper silence at the table. Webster continued in the face of the
silence;

"A living naturalist says the notes may be:

"'_Toodle toodle toodle._'"

Silence at the table still more deep. Webster broke it:

"Another naturalist describes the bird as saying:

"'_Ter-wheeter wheeter wheeter wheeter wheeter._'"

The silence! Webster continued:

"Another naturalist thinks the song is:

"'_Che che che peery peery peery._'"

Webster's father raised his eyebrows--he had no hair to raise--at
Webster's mother: a sign that their graduate was beginning to celebrate
his vacation.

"My son," he said, "when I was a little fellow in school, one of the
reading lessons was a poem called 'Try, Try Again.' Perhaps the bird
is working along that line."

"Thomas Jefferson followed a bird for hours in the woods," said
Webster, with dignity: he somehow felt rebuked. "And for twenty years
he tried to catch sight of another."

"Don't let me come between you and Thomas Jefferson," said Webster's
father, waving his hand toward his son in protest. "God forbid that I
should come between any two such persons as Daniel Webster and Thomas
Jefferson!"

"The government at Washington," observed Webster stoutly, "is behind
the Kentucky warbler."

"Then, my son, I advise you to get behind the Government."

The rusty bell at the little front door went off with a sound like
the whirr of a frightened prairie chicken. The breakfast maid, also
the cook, also the maid of all work, also a unit of the standardised
population of disservice and discontent, entered and pushed a bill at
Webster's father.

"The butcher," she announced with sullen gratification, "He's waiting."

As Webster's father left the table, he tapped his son affectionately
on the head with his paper: "You follow the bird, my boy; and follow
Thomas Jefferson, if you can. The butcher follows me."

Webster's mother sat watching him. He had begun to get his lunch ready.
He held the bottom-half of a long, slender roll, which might have
served as a miniature model for an old-time Kentucky river-ark; and
with his knife, grasped like an oar, he was lining the inside with some
highly specialised yellow substance. She deplored his awkwardness and
fought his independence.

"Let me put up your lunch for you, my son!"

"I'll put it up."

He was not to be cheated out of that fresh sensation of pleasure which
comes to the male, young or old, who tries to cook in camp, to fry, to
boil, to season, or to serve things edible.

Webster pulled out of his pocket a crumpled piece of brown paper and
smoothed it out on the table cloth. It showed butcher stains.

Webster's mother protested.

"My son! Take a napkin! Take this clean napkin for your lunch!"

"I like this paper."

The idea of being in the forest and unrolling his lunch from a napkin:
what would Wilson have thought? Elinor, being "nice," always rolled her
lunch in a napkin.

"But you will be hungry: let me get you some preserves!"

"Not anything sweet." Elinor always had preserves. He rolled his lunch
roughly and thrust it, butcher-stains and all, into his pocket. His
mother was exasperated and distressed.

"My son, your lunch will come loose in your pocket: I'll get you a
string."

"I don't want a string." Elinor tied everything. Girls tied; boys
buttoned. The difference between men and women was strings.

"But you'll get the grease on you, Webster! It will run down your
legs!"

"Very well, then, I'll have greasy legs. Why not?"

She followed him out to the porch. Her character lacked capacity
of initiative. She waited for him to be old enough to take some
initiative; then she would stand by him.

"Don't go too far," she said tenderly, "and you ought to have some of
your friends to go with you, some of the boys from school."

"They can't go today. Nobody can go today. Anybody would be in the way
today."

He said this to himself.

She watched him from the porch and called: "Don't stay too late."

Webster walked quickly to the main corner of the block--Jenny's
corner. On this first morning of being through with school and of
feeling more like a man free to do as he pleased, Jenny for that reason
became more important--he must see her before starting. Heretofore the
pleasure of being with Jenny had definitely depended upon what Jenny
might do; this morning the idea was beginning to be Jenny herself.

She was in her trumpet-vine arbour, the roof of which was already
sun-dried. The shaded sides were still dew-wet. She bounded across to
him, very exquisite in her light blue frock with broad, fresh white
ribbons in her light-brown hair: healthy, docile, joyous, with innocent
blue eyes and the complexion of apple blossoms.

"Where are you going?" she asked in a voice which implied that the day
would be as pleasant, no matter where he went: nevertheless she had no
thought of appearing indifferent to him.

He told her.

"What are you going into the woods for?" she inquired, with little
dancing movements of her feet on the yard grass in irrepressible health
and joy and with no especial interest in his reply.

He told her.

"Could _you_ go?" He very well knew she could not and merely yielded to
an impulse to express himself: he was offering to ruin the day for her.

"They wouldn't let me," said Jenny, apparently not disappointed at
being thus kept at home.

He sought to make the best of his disappointment.

"Even if you could go, I am afraid you never would be quiet, Jenny."

"I'm afraid I wouldn't," Jenny replied, responsive to every suggestion.

He lingered, tenderly disturbed by her: the roots of the future were
growing in him this morning. He was changing, he was changing _her_:
there was an outreaching of his nature to draw her into the future
alongside him.

Jenny suddenly stopped dancing and came closer to the fence, having
all at once become more conscious of Webster, standing there as he had
never stood before, looking at her as he had never looked. Her nature
was of yielding sweetness, clasping trust. She glanced around the
cottage windows: the situation was very exposed. Webster glanced at the
cottage windows: the situation did not appear in the least exposed.
Her eyes became more round with an idea:

"Are you coming back this way?"

"I _will_ come back this way."

Jenny danced away from the fence, laughing excitedly: "Will it be late?"

"I can _make_ it late?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Webster climbed the fence of the forest under the foliage of a big
tree of some unknown kind and descended waist-deep into the foliage
of a weed with a leaf as big as an elephant's ear: it had a beautiful
trumpet-shaped white and purple flower. He wished he knew what it was:
on the very edge of the forest, at his very first step, he had sunk
waist-deep into ignorance. Then he waded through the rank nightshade
and stepped out upon the grass of the woods--the green carpet of thick
turf, Kentucky bluegrass.

At last he was there under those softly waving trees which summer after
summer he had watched from the porch and windows: long they had called
to him and now he had answered their call.

But the disappointment! As he had looked at the forest across the
distance, the tree-tops had made an unbroken billowy line of green
along the blue horizon, continuous like the waves of the sea as he
imagined the sea. Somewhere under that forest roof he had taken it
for granted that there would be thick undergrowth, wild spots for shy
singing nesting birds. The disappointment! The trees stood ten or
twenty or thirty feet apart. The longest boughs barely touched each
other, their lowest sometimes hung forty or fifty feet in the air. He
did not see a tree whose branches he could reach with his upstretched
arm. The sun shone everywhere under them every bright day and the grass
grew thick up to their trunks.

Another disappointment! The wood was small. He walked to the middle of
it and from there could see to its edge on each of its four sides. On
one side was a field of yellow grain--what the grain was he did not
know--ignorance again. On the side opposite this was a field of green
grain--what he did not know. Straight ahead of him as he looked through
the trees, he could see an open paddock on which the sunlight fell in
a blazing sheen; it turned to silver the white flanks of some calves
and made soft gold of the coats of grazing thoroughbreds. Beyond the
paddock he could see stables and sheds and beyond these a farmhouse: he
could faintly hear the cackle of barnyard poultry.

He stood in bluegrass pasture--once Kentucky wilderness. It was like an
exquisite natural park. As he had skirmished toward the country along
turnpikes with school-mates or other friends during his life, often his
eyes had been drawn toward these world-famous bluegrass pastures. Now
he was in one; and it was here that he had come to look for the warbler
which haunts the secret forest solitudes!

He sat down under a big tree with a feeling of how foolish he had
been. This was again followed by an overwhelming sense of his
ignorance.

He did not know the kind of tree he sat under nor of any other that
stood far or near. These were such as sugar maple and red oak and
white oak and black ash and white ash and black walnut and white
walnut--rarely white walnut--and hickory and locust and elm and a few
haws: he did recognise a locust tree but then a locust tree grew in
Jenny's yard! All around him weeds and wild flowers and other grasses
sprang up out of the bluegrass: he did not know them.

There was one tree he curiously looked around for, positive that he
should not be blind to it if fortunate enough to set his eyes on
one--the coffee tree. That is, he felt sure he'd recognise it if it
yielded coffee ready to drink, of which never in his life had they
given him enough. Not once throughout his long troubled experience as
to being fed had he been allowed as much coffee as he craved. Once,
when younger, he had heard some one say that the only tree in all the
American forest that bore the name of Kentucky was the Kentucky coffee
tree; and he had instantly conceived a desire to pay a visit in secret
to that corner of the woods. To take his cup and a few lumps of sugar
and sit under the boughs and catch the coffee as it dripped down.... No
one to hold him back ... as much as he wanted at last ...! The Kentucky
coffee tree--his favourite in Nature!

He said to himself, looking all round him, that he had the outdoor
loneliness and blindness of Silas Marner this wonderful morning.

Propped against the tree he sat still a while, thinking of the long day
before him and of how he should spend it in this thin empty pasture,
abandoned by the wild creatures. But as he deliberated, suddenly and
then more and more he awoke to things going on around him.

A few feet away and on a level with his eyes a little fellow descended
from high over-head. A little green gymnast trying to reach the ground
by means of his own rope which he manufactured out of his body as he
came down. How could he do it? How had he learned the very first time
to make the rope strong enough to bear his weight instead of its
giving way and letting him drop? Something seized one of Webster's
ankles with a pair of small jaws like pincers and reminded him that his
foot was in the way: it had better move on. A black ant suddenly rushed
angrily over his knee. A cricket leaped in the grass. One autumn one
of them had started its song behind the wainscoting, Elinor had pushed
her toe against the woodwork and silenced it. A few feet away a bunch
of white clover blossomed: a honey bee was searching it. Webster found
on the back of one of his hands, which was pressed against the grass, a
tiny crimson coach--a mere dot of a crimson coach being moved along he
could not see how. The colour was most gorgeous and the material of the
finest velvet. He let it go on its way across his hand withersoever it
might be journeying. Directly opposite his eyes, some forty feet from
the ground, was a round hole in a rotten tree-trunk. Webster wondered
whether a bird ever pecked a square hole in anything. Suddenly from
behind him a red-headed bird flew to the dead tree-trunk and alighted
near the hole: he recognised the wood-pecker. And he remembered that
this was the first bird Wilson had killed that first day he entered the
American forest: he was glad that it was the first _he_ encountered!
No sooner had the wood-pecker alighted than the head of another bird
appeared at the hole and the wood-pecker took to his heels--to his
wings. Webster wished he had known what this other bird was: it had
a black band across its chest and wore a speckled jacket and a dull
reddish cap on the back of its head. A disturbance reached him from
a nearby treetop, a wailing voice, a gulping sound, as if something
up there were sick and full of suffering and were trying to take its
medicine. He watched the spot and presently a crow flew out of the
thick leaves: the crow's family seemed not in good health. A ground
squirrel jumped to the end of a rotting log some yards away but at
sight of him shrieked and darted in again. The whole pasture was alive.

Webster had all this time become conscious that another sound had been
reaching his ear at regular intervals from the high branches of the
trees, first in one place and then in another. His eyes had followed
the voice but he could see no bird. The sound was like this:

_Se--u--re?_

That was the first half of the song--a question. A few moments later
the other half followed, perhaps from another tree--the answer:

_Se--u--u._

Here was a mystery: what was the bird? Could it be the bluebird!--his
ignorance again, the comicality of his ignorance! Webster had never
seen or heard a bluebird. He recalled what the professor had told
them--that Alexander Wilson had written the first poem on the American
bluebird, perhaps still the best poem; and he had given them the poem
to memorise if they liked, saying that they might not think it good
poetry, but at least it was the poetry of a man who thought he could
criticise Robert Burns! Webster had memorised the verses and as he now
searched the forest boughs for this invisible bluebird, he repeated to
himself some of Wilson's lines:

    "When all the gay scenes of summer are o'er
    And autumn slow enters so silent and sallow
    And millions of warblers that charmed us before
    Have fled in the train of the sun-seeking swallow;
    The bluebird, forsaken, but true to his home
    Still lingers and looks for a milder tomorrow
    Till forced by the horrors of winter to roam,
    He sings his adieu in a lone note of sorrow."

Again that long fine strain cast far out upon the air like a silken
reel:

_Se--u--re? Se--u--u._

Or could it be a woodcock?

He got up by and bye and walked toward the field of yellow grain on one
side of the pasture. Before he was halfway he stopped, arrested by a
wonderful sound: from the top rail of the fence before him, separating
the pasture from the grain, came a loud ringing whistle. It was
Bobwhite! Boys at school sometimes whistled "bobwhite." He knew this
bird because he had seen him hanging amid snow and ice and holly boughs
outside meat shops about Christmas time. Here now was the summer song:
in it the green of the woods, the gold of the grain, the far brave
clearness of the June sky.

He tipped forward, not because his feet made any noise. Once again,
nearer, that marvellous music rang past him, echoing on into the woods.
Then it ceased; and as Webster approached the field fence what he saw
was a rabbit watching him over the grass tops until with long soft
leaps it escaped through the fence to the safety of the field.

For a while he remained leaning on this fence and looking out across
the coming harvest. Twenty yards away a clump of alders was in bloom:
some bird was singing out there joyously. It made a _che che che_
sound, also; but its colour was brown.

The idea occurred to Webster that he would recross the pasture to the
field on the other side and go on to the turnpike: one ran there, for
he heard vehicles passing. He would make inquiry about some piece of
forest further from the city. He remembered again what the professor
told them:

"Some of you this summer during your vacation may go out to some
nearby strip of woods--what little is left of the old forest--in quest
of the warbler. Seek the wildest spots you can find. The Kentucky
bluegrass landscape is thin and tame now, but there are places of thick
undergrowth where the bird still spends his Kentucky summer. Shall I
give you my own experience as to where I found him when a boy half a
century ago? On my father's farm there was a woodland pasture. The
land dipped there into a marshy hollow. In this hollow was a stock
pond. Around the edges of the pond grew young cane. It was always low
because the cattle browsed it. The highest stalks were scarcely five
feet. On the edge of the canebrake a thicket of papaw and blackberry
vines added rankness and forest secrecy. It was here I discovered him.
The pale green and yellow of his plumage blent with the pale green and
yellow of the leaves and stalks. But it was many years before I knew
that the bird I had found was the Kentucky warbler. If I had only known
it when I was a boy!"

       *       *       *       *       *

When Webster reached the turnpike and looked up and down, no one was in
sight. He sat on the fence and waited. By and bye, coming in from the
country, a spring wagon appeared. Curious projections stuck out from
the top and sides of boxes in the wagon. When it drew nearer Webster
saw poultry being taken to market. He looked at the driver but let him
pass unaccosted: there would be little use in applying for information
about warblers at headquarters for broilers.

Next from the direction of the city he saw coming a splendid open
carriage drawn by a splendid horse and driven by a very pompous
coloured coachman in livery. An aristocratic old lady sat in the
carriage, shielding her face from the dazzling sunlight with a rich
parasol. She leaned out and looked curiously at Webster.

"Suydam," she called out to her coachman with a voice that had the
faded sweetness of faded rose leaves, "did you notice that remarkable
boy? He looked as though he would have liked to drive with me out into
the country. I wish I had invited him to do so."

A milk cart followed with a great noise of tin cans. With milk carts
Webster felt somewhat at home: it was often his business to receive
the family milk. As the cart was passing, he motioned for the milkman
to stop. Perhaps all milkmen stop at any sign: there may be an order:
Webster called out with a good deal of hesitation:

"Do you know of a woods further out full of bushes and thickets?"

The milkman gave a little flap of the rein to his horse:

"What's the matter with _you_?" he said with patient forbearance:

Finally Webster saw creeping down the turnpike toward him an empty
wagon-bed drawn by a yoke of oxen. A good-natured young negro man sat
sideways on the wagon-tongue, smoking. Webster halted him by a gesture
and a voice of command:

"Do you know of a bushy woods further out?"

Any negro enjoys being questioned because he enjoys not answering
questions. Most of all he enjoys any puzzling exercise of his mother
wit.

"A bushy woods?"

"Yes, a bushy woods."

"What do you want with a bushy woods?"

"I want to find where there is one."

The negro hesitated: "there's a bushy woods about four miles out."

"Is it on the pike?"

"On the pike! Did you ever see a bushy woods on the pike? It's _beside_
the pike."

"Right side or left side?"

"Depends which way you're going. Right side if you are going out, left
side if you're coming in."

"You say it's four miles out?"

"You pass the three mile post and then you go a little further."

"Are there any birds in it?"

"Birds? There's owls in it. There's coons in it."

"Do you know a young canebrake when you see one?"

"I know an old hempbrake when I see one."

Webster enjoyed his new authority in holding up his negro and
questioning him about a forest. And it seemed to him that the moment
had come when it was right to use money if you had it, horns or no
horns. He pulled out a dime. The negro, too surprised to speak,
came across and received it. He declined to express thanks but felt
disposed to show that he had earned the money by repeating a piece of
information:

"It's four miles out."

"Is there much of it?"

"Much of it? Much as you want."

"Do you live in it?"

"No, I don't live in it: I live in a house."

He had retaken his seat on the wagon-tongue.

"What kind of pipe stem is that you are using?"

"What kind? It's a cane pipe stem."

"Where did you get the cane?"

"Where did I get it? I got it in the woods."

"Then there _is_ young cane growing in the woods?"

"Who said there wasn't?"

Webster, beginning this morning to use his eyes, took notice of
something which greatly interested him as the wagon moved slowly off
down the pike: strands of hemp clung to it here and there like a dry
hanging moss. The geologist had told them that his own boyhood lay
far back in the era of great Kentucky hemp-raising. Much of the hemp
was broken in March, the month of high winds. As the hemp-breakers
busily shook out their handfuls while separating the fibre from the
shard, strands were carried away on the roaring gales, lodging against
stubble and stumps and fences of the fields or blown further on into
the pastures. Later when it was baled and hauled in, other filaments
were caught on the rafters and shingles of hemp-houses and barns. Thus
when in April the northward migration of birds reached Kentucky, this
material was everywhere ready and plentiful, and the Baltimore orioles
on the bluegrass plateau built their long hanging nests of Kentucky
hemp.

Webster, sitting on the fence and thinking of this, meantime laid his
plans for the larger adventure of the following day: the clue he sought
had unexpectedly been found: he would go out to the place where young
cane grew: there he might have a real chance at the warbler.

This being settled to his satisfaction, he hurried impatiently back to
his woodland pasture. It had seemed empty of living creatures when he
entered it; soon it had revealed itself as a whole teeming world. The
mere green carpet of the woods was one vast birthplace and nursery,
concert hall, playground, battlefield, slaughter-pen, cemetery.

"But my ignorance!" he complained. "I have good strong eyes, but all
these years they have been required to look at dead maps, dead books,
dead pencils and figures, dead everything: not once in all that time
have they been trained upon the study of a living object."

His ears were as ignorant as his eyes: he had not been educated to hear
and to know what he heard. Innumerable strange sounds high and low beat
incessantly on them--wave upon wave of louder and fainter melodies,
the summer music of the intent and earnest earth. And everywhere what
fragrances! The tonic woody smells! Each deep breath he drew laved
his lungs with sun-clean, leaf-sweet atmosphere. Hour after hour of
this until his whole body and being--sight, smell, hearing, mind and
spirit--became steeped in the forest joyousness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now it was alone in the June woods that long bright afternoon that
Webster took final account of the last wonderful things the geologist
had told them that memorable morning. He pondered those sayings as best
he could, made out of them what he could:

"_I am not afraid to trust you, the young, with big ideas which will
lift your minds as on strong wings and carry them swiftly and far
through time and space. If you are taught to look for great things
early in life, you will early learn how to find great things; and the
things you love to find will be the things you will desire and try to
do. I wish not to give you a single trivial, mean weak thought._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_The Kentucky warbler for over a hundred years has worn the name of
the State and has carried it all over the world--leading the students
of bird life to form some image of a far country and to fix their
thoughts at least for some brief moment on this same beautiful spot
of the world's surface. As long as he remains in the forests of the
earth, he will keep the name of Kentucky alive though all else it once
meant shall have perished and been forgotten. He is thus, as nearly as
anything in Nature can be, its winged worldwide emblem, ever young as
each spring is young, as the green of the woods is young._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Study the warbler while you may: how long he will inhabit the
Kentucky forest no one can tell. As civilisation advances upon the
forest, the wild species retreat; when the forest falls, the wild
species are gone. Every human generation during these centuries has a
last look at many things in Nature. No one will ever see them again:
Nature can never find what she has once lost: if it is gone, it is
gone forever. What Wilson records he saw of bird life in Kentucky a
hundred years ago reads to us now as fables of the marvellous, of the
incredible. Were he the sole witness, some of us might think him to be
a lying witness. Let me tell you that I in my boyhood--half a century
later than Wilson's visit to Kentucky--beheld things that you will
hardly believe. The vast oak forest of Kentucky was what attracted
the passenger pigeon. In the autumn when acorns were ripe but not
yet fallen, the pigeons filled the trees at times and places, eating
them from the cups. Walking quietly some sunny afternoon through the
bluegrass pastures, you might approach an oak and see nothing but the
tree itself, thick boughs with the afternoon sunlight sparkling on the
leaves along one side. As you drew nearer, all at once, as if some
violent explosion had taken place within the tree, a blue smoke-like
cloud burst out all around the treetop--the simultaneous explosive
flight of the frightened pigeons. Or all night long there might be
wind and rain and the swishing of boughs and the tapping of loosened
leaves against the window panes; and when you stepped out of doors
next morning, it had suddenly become clear and cold. Walking out into
the open and looking up at the clear sky you might see this: an arch
of pigeons breast by breast, wing-tip to wing-tip, high up in the air
as the wild geese fly, slowly moving southward. You could not see the
end of the arch on one horizon or the other: the whole firmament was
spanned by that mighty arch of pigeons flying south from the sudden
cold. Not all the forces in Nature can ever restore that morning sunlit
arch of pigeons flying south. The distant time may come, or a nearer,
when the Kentucky warbler will have vanished like the wild pigeon:
then any story of him will be as one of the ancient fables of bird
life._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_The rocks of the earth are the one flooring on which every thing
develops its story, then either disappears upon the stillness of the
earth's atmosphere or sinks toward the silence of its rocks. Of the
myriad forms of life on the earth the bird has always been the one
thing nearest to what we call the higher life of the human species._

"_It is the form and flight of the bird alone that has given man at
last the mastery of the atmosphere. Without the bird as a living model
we have not the slightest reason to believe that he could have ever
learned the mechanism of flight. Now it is the flight of the bird,
studied under the American sky, that has given the_ nations the war
engine that will perhaps rule the destiny of the human race henceforth.
_The form of the bird will fly before our autumn-brown American armies
as they cross the sea--leading them as the symbol of their victory.
When they lie along the trenches of France as thick as fallen brown
autumn leaves in woodland hollows, it will be the flight of bird-like
emblems of destruction that will guide them like hurricane-rushing
leaves as they sweep toward their evil enemy._"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_Through all ages the flight of the bird alone has been the
interpreter of the human spirit. The living, standing on the earth and
seeing the souls of their dead pass beyond their knowledge, have fixed
upon the bird as the symbol of their faith. When you are old enough,
if not already, to know your Shakespeare, you will find in one line of
one of his plays the whole vast human farewell of the living to the
dead: they are the words of Horatio to Hamlet, his dying prince: 'the
flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.'_"

       *       *       *       *       *

"_As far as we geologists know, this is the morning of the planet. Not
its dawn but somewhere near its sunrise. The bird music we hear in
these human ages are morning songs. Back of that morning stretches the
earth's long dawn; and the rocks tell us that thrushes were singing
in the green forests of the earth millions of years before man had
been moulded of the dust and had awakened and begun to listen to them.
Thus bird music which seems to us so fresh is the oldest music of the
earth--millions of years older than man's. And yet all this is still
but a morning song. The earth is young, the birds are young, man is
young--all young together at the morning of the earth's geologic day.
What the evening will be we do not know. It is possible that the birds
will be singing their evening song to the earth and man already have
vanished millions of years before._"

"_Many questions vex us: all others lead to one: when man vanishes,
does he pass into the stillness of the earth's atmosphere and sink
toward the stillness of its rocks like every other species? He answers
with his faith: that his spirit is here he knows not why, but takes
flight from it he knows not how or whither. Only, faith discloses to
him one picture: the snowy pinion folded and at rest in the Final
Places._"

       *       *       *       *       *

That long sunny afternoon in the June woods! The shadows of the trees
slowly lengthened eastward. The sun sank below the forest boughs and
shot its long lances against the tree trunks. It made a straight path
of gold, deeper gold, across the yellow grain. The sounds of life died
away, the atmosphere grew sweeter with the odours of leaves and grasses
and blossoms.

Webster recrossed the woods as he had entered it, waded through the
nightshade and climbed the fence under the dark tree.

It was twilight when he entered the City.

As he passed her yard, Jenny bounded across to him joyous, innocent,
tender, in a white frock with fresh blue ribbons in her brown hair.

"Did you find him?" she asked, her happiness not depending on his
answer.

"It was not the right place. Tomorrow I am going out further into the
country to a better place."

"The humming-bird has been here," Jenny announced with an air of saying
that she had been more successful as a naturalist.

He made no reply: as the veteran observer of a day, he had somewhat
outgrown the trumpet-vine arbour and the ruby-throat.

He lingered close to the fence. Jenny lingered. He moved off,
disappointed but devoid of speech.

"Come back!" Jenny whispered, with reproach and vexation.

It was the first invitation. It was the first acceptance of an
invitation. There would have been a second acceptance but the
invitation was not there to accept.

When Webster turned in at his home gate, everything was just as he
had foreseen: his father sat on one side of the porch, smoking the
one daily cigar; his mother faced him from the opposite side, slowly
rocking. Elinor crouched on the top step between them: he would have to
walk around her or over her.

His father laughed heartily as he sauntered up.

"Well, my son, where is your game bag? What have you brought us for
breakfast?"

Webster looked crestfallen: he returned empty-handed but not
empty-minded: he had had a great rich day; they thought it an idle
wasted one.

"Some of the boys have been here for you," said his mother. "They left
word you must be certain to meet them, in the morning for the game.
Freshen yourself up and I'll give you your supper."

Elinor said nothing--a bad sign with her. She sat with her sharp little
chin resting on her palms and with her eyes on him with calculating
secrecy. He stepped around her.

His room had never seemed so cramped after those hours in the woods
under the open sky. The whole cottage seemed so unnatural, everything
in the City so unnatural, after that day in the forest.

At supper he had not much to say; his mother talked to him:

"I put my berries away to eat with you for company." They ate their
berries together.

He felt tired and said he would go to bed. His room was darkened when
he returned to it; he felt sure he had left his lamp burning; someone
had been in it. He lighted his lamp again.

As he started toward his window to close the shutters, his eye caught
sight of an object hanging from the window sash. A paper was pinned
around it. The handwriting was Elinor's. It was a bluejay, brought
down by a lucky stone from some cottager's hand. Webster read Elinor's
message for him:

    "Your favourite Kentucky Warbler,

           From your old friend,
                   Thomas Jefferson."

He sat on the side of his bed. The sights and sounds and fragrances of
the pasture were all through him; the sunlight warmed his blood still,
the young blood of perfect health.

He turned in for the night and sleep drew him away at once from
reality. And some time during the night he awoke out of his sleep to
the reality of a great dream.

[Illustration: chapter III--end decoration]



[Illustration: chapter IV--title decoration]


IV

THE BIRD


It was in the depths of a wonderful forest, green with summer and hoary
with age. He was sitting on the ground in a small open space. No path
led to this or away from it, but all around him grew grasses and plants
which would be natural coverts for wild creatures. No human tread had
ever crushed those plants.

The soft vivid light resting on the woods was not morning-light nor
evening-light: it was clear light without the hours. Yet the time must
have been near noonday; for as Webster looked straight up toward the
unseen sky, barred from his eyes by the forest roof of leaves, slender
beams of sunlight filtered perpendicularly down, growing mistier as
they descended until they could be traced no longer even as luminous
vapour; no palest radiance from them reached the grass.

He could not see far in any direction. At the edge of the open
space where he sat, fallen rotten trees lay amid the standing live
ones--parents, grandparents, great-grandparents of the rising forest,
passing back into the soil of the planet toward the rocks.

Strange as was the spot, stranger was Webster to himself and did
not know what had changed him. It seemed that for the first time
in his life his eyes were fully opened; never had he seen with such
vision; and his feeling was so deep, so intense. The whole scene was
enchantment. It was more than reality. _He_ was more than reality.
The singing of birds far away--it was so crystal sweet, yet he could
see none. A few yards from him a rivulet made its way from somewhere
to somewhere. He could trace its course by the growth of plants which
crowded its banks and covered it with their leaves.

Expectancy weighed heavily on him. He was there for a purpose but could
not say what the purpose was.

All at once as his eyes were fixed on the low, green thicket opposite
him, he saw that it was shaken; something was on its way to him. He
watched the top of the thicket being parted to the right and to the
left. With a great leaping of his heart he waited, motionless where
he sat on the grass. What creature could be coming? Then he saw just
within the edge of the thicket a curious piece of head-gear--he had no
knowledge of any such hat. Then he saw a gun barrel. Then the hand and
forearm of a man was thrust forward and it pushed the underbrush aside;
and then there stepped forth into the open the figure of a hunter,
lean, vigorous, tall, athletic. The hunter stepped out with a bold
stride or two and stopped and glanced eagerly around with an air of
one in a search; he discovered Webster and with a look of relief stood
still and smiled.

There could be no mistake. Webster held imprinted on memory from a
picture those features, those all-seeing eyes; it was Wilson--weaver
lad of Paisley, wandering peddler youth of the grey Scotch mountains,
violinist, flutist, the poet who had burned his poem standing in the
public cross, the exile, the school teacher for whom the boy caught the
mouse, the failure who sent the drawing to Thomas Jefferson, the bold
figure in the skiff drifting down the Ohio--the naturalist plunging
into the Kentucky wilderness and walking to Lexington and shivering in
White's garret--the great American ornithologist, the immortal man.

There he stood: how could it be? It was reality yet more than reality.

The hunter walked straight toward him with the light of recognition in
his eyes. He came and stood before Webster and looked down at him with
a smile:

"Have you found him, Webster?"

Webster strangely heard his own voice:

"I have not found him."

"You have looked long?"

"I have looked everywhere and I cannot find him."

The hunter sat down and laid on the grass beside him his fowling piece,
his game bag holding new species of birds, and his portfolio of fresh
drawings. Then he turned upon Webster a searching look as if to draw
the inmost truth out of him and asked:

"Why do you look for the Kentucky Warbler?"

Webster hesitated long:

"I do not know," he faltered.

"Something in you makes you seek him, but you do not know what that
something is?"

"No, I do not know what it is: I know I wish to find him."

"Not him alone but many other things?"

"Yes, many other things."

"The whole wild life of the forest?"

"Yes, all the wild things in the forest--and the wild forest itself."

"You wish to know about these things--you wish to know them?"

"I wish to know them."

The hunter searched Webster's countenance more keenly, more severely:

"Are you sure?"

There was silence. The forest was becoming more wonderful. The singing
of the unseen birds more silvery sweet. It was beyond all reality.
Webster answered:

"I am sure."

The hunter hurled questions now with no pity:

"Would you be afraid to stay here all night alone?"

"I would not."

"If, during the night, a storm should pass over the forest with thunder
deafening you and lightning flashing close to your eyes and trees
falling everywhere, you would fear for your life and that would be
natural and wise; but would you come again?"

"I would."

"If it were winter and the forest were bowed deep with ice and snow
and you were alone in it, having lost your way, would you cry enough?
Would you hunt for a fireside and never return?"

"I would not."

"You can stand cold and hunger and danger and fatigue; can you be
patient and can you be persevering?"

"I can."

"Look long and not find what you look for and still not give up?"

"I can."

There was silence for a little while: the mood of the hunter seemed to
soften:

"Do you know where you are, Webster?"

"I do not know where I am."

"You did not know then, that this is the wilderness of your
forefathers--the Kentucky pioneers. You have wandered back to it."

"I did not know."

"Have you read their great story?"

"Not much of it."

"Are you beginning to realise what it means to be sprung from such men
and women?"

"I cannot say."

"But you want to do great things?"

"If I loved them."

The hunter stood up and gathered his belongings together. His questions
had become more kind as though he were satisfied. He struck Webster on
his shoulder.

"_Come_," he said, as with high trust, "_I will show you the Kentucky
warbler._"

He looked around and his eyes fell upon the forest brook. He walked
over to it, to discover in what direction it ran and beckoned.

"We'll follow this stream up: the spring may not be far away." He
glanced at the tree-tops: "It is nearly noon: the bird will come to the
spring to drink and to bathe."

Webster followed the hunter as he threaded his way through the forest
toward the source of the brook.

Not many yards off his guide turned:

"There is the spring," he said, pointing to a green bank out of which
bubbled the cool current.

"Let us sit here. Make no movement and make no noise."

How tense the stillness! They waited and listened. Finally the hunter
spoke in an undertone:

"Did you hear that?"

Away off in the forest Webster heard the song of a bird. Presently
it came nearer. Now it was nearer still. It sounded at last within
the thicket just above the spring, clear, sweet, bold, emphatic notes
distinctly repeated at short intervals. And then--

_There he was--the Kentucky Warbler!_

Webster could see every mark of identification. The bird had come
out of the dense growth and showed himself on the bough of a sapling
about twenty feet from the earth, in his grace and shapeliness and
manly character. With a swift, gliding flight downward he lighted on
a sweeping limb of a tree still nearer, within a few inches of the
ground. Then he dropped to the ground and moved about, turning over
dead leaves. He was only several yards away and Webster could plainly
trace the yellow line over his eye, the blackish crown and black sides
of the throat, the underparts all of solid yellowish gold, the upper
parts of olive green. An instant later the bird was on the wing again,
hither, thither, up and down, continually in motion. No white in the
wings, none in the tail feathers. Once he stopped and poured out his
loud, musical song--unlike any other warbler's. A moment later he was
on the ground again, with a manner of self-possession, dignity--as on
his namesake soil, Kentucky.

Webster had sat bent over toward him, forgetful of everything else. At
last drawing a deep breath, he looked around gratefully, remembering
his guide.

No one was near him. Webster saw the hunter on the edge of the thicket
yards away; he stood looking back, his figure dim, fading. Webster,
forgetful of the bird, cried out with quick pain:

"Are you going away? Am I never to see you again?"

The voice that reached him seemed scarcely a voice; it was more like an
echo, close to his ear, of a voice lost forever:

"_If you ever wish to see me, enter the forest of your own heart._"

[Illustration: chapter IV--end decoration]



[Illustration: chapter V--title decoration]


V

THE ROAD


Webster sprang to his feet in the depths of the strange summer-dark
forest: that is to say, he awoke with a violent start and found himself
sitting on his bed with his feet hanging over one side.

It was late to be getting up. The sun already soared above the roof of
the cottage opposite his window and the light slanted in full blaze
against his shutters. Shafts penetrated some weather-loosened slats and
fell on his head and shoulders and on the wall behind him. Breakfast
must be nearly ready. Fresh cooking odours--coffee odour, meat odour,
bread odour--filled the little bathroom-bedroom. Feet were hurrying,
scurrying, in the kitchen. Quieter footsteps approached his door along
the narrow hall outside and there came a tap:

"Breakfast, Webster!"

It was his mother's voice, indulgent, peaceful, sweet. He suddenly
thought that never before had he fully realised how sweet it was, had
always been, notwithstanding he disappointed her.

He got up and went across to open his shutters and had taken hold of
the catch, when he was arrested in his movement. At night he tilted
the shutters, so that the morning sun might not enter crevices and
shine in his face and awaken him. Now looking down through the slats,
he discovered something going on in the yard beneath his window.
Elinor had come tipping around the corner of the cottage. She held one
dark little witch-like finger unconsciously pressed against her tense
lips. Her dark eyes were brimming with a secret, mischievous purpose.
A ribbon which looked like a huge, crumpled purple morning-glory was
knotted into the peak of her ravenish hair. Her fresh little gown,
too, suggested the colours of the purple morning-glory and her whole
presence, with a freshness as of dew-drops formed amid moonbeams at
midnight, somehow symbolised that flower which surprises us at dawn as
having matured its unfolding in the dark: half sinister, half innocent.

With cautious, delicate steps, which could not possibly have made any
noise in the grass, she approached the window and stopped and lifted
the notched pole which was used to hold up the clothes-line in the
back yard. Setting the pole on end and planting herself beside it, she
pushed it with all her slight but concentrated strength against the
window shutters. It struck violently and fell over to the grass in one
direction as Elinor, with the silence of a light wind, fled in the
other.

Webster stood looking down at it all: he understood now: that was the
crashing sound which had awakened him.

It had been Elinor who had ended his dream.

But his dream was not ended. It would never end. It was in him to stay
and it was doing its work. The feeling which had surprised him as to
the sweetness of his mother's voice but marked the deeper awakening
that had taken place in his sleep, an unfolding, his natural growth. It
was this growth that now animated him as he smiled at Elinor's flying
figure. Her prank had not irritated him: no intrigue of hers would
ever annoy him again. Instead, the idea struck him that Elinor must
be thinking of him a great deal, if so much of her life--incessantly
active as it was with the other children of the cottages--were
devoted to plans to worry him. She must often have him in mind quite
to herself, he reflected; and this fresh picture of Elinor's secret
brooding about him somehow for the first time touched him tenderly and
finely.

He turned back from the window shutters without opening them and sat
on the edge of his bed. He could not shake off his dream. How could it
possibly be true that there was no such forest as he had wandered into
in his dream--that Kentucky wilderness of the old heroic days? Could
anything destroy in him the certainty that with wildly beating heart he
had seen the living colours and heard the actual notes and watched the
characteristic movements of the warbler? Then, though these things were
not real, still they were true and would remain true always.

Thus, often and to many of us, between closing the curtains of the
eyes upon the outer world at night and drawing them wide in the
morning, within that closed theatre a stage has been erected and we
have stepped forth and spoken some solitary part or played a rôle in a
drama that leaves us changed for the rest of our days. Yesterday an old
self, today a new self. We have been shifted completely away from our
last foot-prints and our steps move off in another direction, taking a
truer course.

Beyond all else a high, solemn sense subdued Webster with the thought,
that in his sleep he had come near as to unearthly things. The
long-dead hunter, who had appeared to him, spoke as though he lived
elsewhere than on the earth and lived more nobly; his accents, the
majesty of his countenance, were moulded as by higher wisdom and
goodness. Webster was overwhelmed with the feeling that he had been
brought near the mystery of life and death and as from an immortal
spirit had received his consecration to the forest.

... He got down on his knees at his bedside, after a while, though
little used to prayer....

When he walked into the breakfast-room with a fresh step and freshened
countenance, probably all were not slow to notice the change. Families
whose lives run along the groove of familiar routine quickly observe
the slightest departure from the customary, whether in voice or
behaviour, of any member. There was response soon after his entrance
to something in him obviously unusual.

"My son," said his father, who had laid down his paper to help him to
the slice which had been put aside, "the woods must agree with you";
and he even scraped the dish for a little extra gravy. Ordinarily, when
deeply interested in his paper or occasionally when conscious of some
disappointment as to his son, he forgot, or was indifferent about, the
gravy.

"They do agree with me!" Webster replied, laughing and in fresh tones.
He held out his plate hungrily for his slice and he waited for all the
gravy that might be coming to him.

"One of the boys has already been here this morning," said his mother,
handing him his cup. "They want you to be sure to meet them this
afternoon, not to fail. You must have been dead asleep, for I called
you at three different times."

"Did you knock three times?"

Webster asked his question with a sinking of the heart; what if his
mother's first knock had awakened him? He might never have finished his
dream, might never have dreamed at all. How different the morning might
have been, how different the world--if his mother had awakened him
before his dream!

He received his cup from her and smiled at her:

"I was dreaming," he said, and he smiled also at the safety of his
vision.

Elinor, sitting opposite him, had said nothing. She had finished her
breakfast before he had come in and plainly lingered till he should
enter. Since his entrance she had sat restless in her chair, toying
with her fork or her napkin, and humming significantly to herself. She
had this habit. "You must not sing at the table, Elinor," her mother
had once said. "I am _not_ singing," Elinor had replied, "I am humming
to myself, and _no_ one is supposed to listen." Meantime this morning,
her quickly shifting eyes would sweep his face questioningly; she must
have been waiting for some sign as to what had been the effect of the
Thomas Jefferson bluejay the night before and of the repeated attack on
his window shutters.

Often when out of humour with her he had declined to notice her at
table; now once, when he caught her searching glance, he smiled.
Dubiously, half with disbelief and half with amazement, she looked
steadily back at him for an instant; then she slipped confusedly from
her seat and was gone. Webster laughed within himself: "what will she
be up to next?" he thought.

It was quiet now at the table: his father had gone back to his paper,
his mother was eating the last of her breakfast fruit, and perhaps,
thinking that out in the country things were getting ripe. After an
interval Webster broke the silence: he was white with emotion.

"Father," he said quietly, "I have decided what I'd like to do."

Webster's father dropped his paper: Webster's mother's eyes were on
him. The years had waited for this moment, the future depended upon it.

"If you and mother do not need me for anything else just yet, I'd
like to work my way through the University. But if there's something
different you'd rather I'd do, or if you both want me in any other way,
I am here."

"My son," exclaimed his father, rudely with the back of his hand
brushing away a tear that rolled down his cheek--a tear perhaps started
by something in his son's words that brought back his own hard boyhood,
"your father is here to work for you as long as he is alive and able.
Your mother and I are glad--!" but he, got no further: his eyes had
filled and his voice choked him.

Webster's mother stood beside him, her hand on his head, her
handkerchief pressed to her eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he had made his preparations for the glad day's adventure and
stepped out on the front porch, his father had gone to the bank, his
mother was in the kitchen. Elinor was sitting on the top step. Her
back was turned. Her sharp little elbows rested on her knees and her
face was propped in her palms. Her figure again suggested a crumpled,
purple morning-glory--fragile, not threatened by any human violence but
imperilled by nature.

She did not look around as he stepped out or move as he passed down.
He felt a new wish to say something pleasant but could not quite so
conquer himself. As he laid his hand on the yard gate, he was stopped
by these words, reaching his ears from the porch:

"Take me with you!"

He could not believe his ears. Could this be Elinor, his tease, his
torment? This wounded appeal, timid pleading--could it proceed from
Elinor? He was thrown off his balance and too surprised to act. The
words were repeated more beseechingly, wistfully:

"Take me with you, will you, Webster?"

For now that she had given herself away to him, he might as well see
everything: that at last she was openly begging that she be admitted to
a share in his plans and pleasures, that he no longer disdain to play
with her.

He spoke with rough embarrassment over his shoulder:

"You can't go today. Nobody can go today. I'm going miles out into the
country to the woods."

"But some day will you take me over into the woods yonder?"

After a while he turned toward her:

"Yes, I will."

"Thank you very much. Thank you very much, indeed, Webster!"

The tide of feeling began to rush toward her:

"There are some wild violets over there, Elinor, wild blue violets and
wild white violets--thick beds of them in the shade."

"Oh, how lovely!" She clasped her hands and knotted them tensely under
her chin and kept her eyes fixed more hopefully on him.

"There is a flock of the funniest little fairies dancing under one of
the big forest trees, each carrying the queerest little green parasol."

"How perfectly, perfectly lovely!"

"And I found one little cedar tree. If they'll let us, I'll dig it up
and bring it home and plant it in the front yard. It will be your own
cedar tree, Elinor."

"Oh, Webster! Could anything be more lovely of you?"

"You and I and Jenny will go some day soon--"

"No, no, no!" cried Elinor, stamping her feet fiercely and wringing her
hands. "I don't want Jenny to go! I won't have Jenny! Just you and I!
Not Jenny! Just you and I!"

"Then just you and I," he said, smiling at her and moving away.

"_Wait!_"

She darted down the steps and ran to him and drew his face over and
laid her cheek against his cheek, clinging to him.

He struggled to get away, laughing with his new happiness: tears welled
out of her eyes with hers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Webster had taken to the turnpike.

The morning was cool, the blue of the sky vast, tender, noble. Rain
during the night had left the atmosphere fresh and clear and the pike
dustless. Little knobs of the bluish limestone jutted out. The greyish
grass and weeds on each side had been washed till they looked green
again.

The pike climbed a hill and from this hilltop he turned and looked
back. He could see the packed outskirts of the city and away over in
the heart of it church spires rising here and there. The heart of it
had once been the green valley through which a stream of the wilderness
ran: there Wilson had seen the water mills and the gallows for hanging
Kentuckians and the thousand hitched horses and folks sitting on the
public square selling cakes of maple sugar and split squirrels.

Soon he passed the pasture where he had spent yesterday. That had done
well enough as a beginning: today he would go further. He remembered
many things he had seen in the park-like bluegrass woods. Sweet to his
ear sounded the call of bobwhite from the yellow grain. He wondered
whether the ailing young crows in the tree-tops had at last taken all
their medicine. The curious bird which had watched him out of a hole in
the tree-trunk--the chap with the black band across his chest and the
speckled jacket and the red cap on the back of his head, was he still
on the lookout? What had become of the gorgeous little velvet coach
that had travelled across the back of his hand on its unknown road?
And that mystery of the high leaves--that wandering disembodied voice:
_Se-u-re? Se-u-u._ Did it still haunt the waving boughs?

But miles on ahead in the country, undergrowth, shade, secrecy for wild
creatures--his heart leaped forward to these and his feet hastened.

This day with both eyes open, not shut in sleep, he might find the
warbler.

Whole-heartedly, with a boy's eagerness, Webster suddenly took off his
hat and ran down the middle of the gleaming white turnpike toward the
green forest--toward all, whether much or little, that he was ever to
be.

[Illustration: chapter V--end decoration]



[Illustration: logo--Country Life Press]

                        THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
                           GARDEN CITY, N.Y.





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