James Whitcomb Riley
_The Child-World—long and long since lost to view— A Fairy Paradise!— How always fair it was and fresh and new— How every affluent hour heaped heart and eyes With treasures of surprise!
Enchantments tangible: The under-brink Of dawns that launched the sight Up seas of gold: The dewdrop on the pink, With all the green earth in it and blue height Of heavens infinite:
The liquid, dripping songs of orchard-birds— The wee bass of the bees,— With lucent deeps of silence afterwards; The gay, clandestine whisperings of the breeze And glad leaves of the trees.
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O Child-World: After this world—just as when I found you first sufficed My soulmost need—if I found you again, With all my childish dream so realised, I should not be surprised._
THE OLD-HOME FOLKS
"A NOTED TRAVELER"
A PROSPECTIVE VISIT
AT NOEY'S HOUSE
"THAT LITTLE DOG"
THE LOEHRS AND THE HAMMONDS
THE HIRED MAN AND FLORETTY
THE EVENING COMPANY
MAYMIE'S STORY OF RED RIDING HOOD
LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS
MR. HAMMOND'S PARABLE—THE DREAMER
FLORETTY'S MUSICAL CONTRIBUTION
A DELICIOUS INTERRUPTION
COUSIN RUFUS' STORY
ALEX TELLS A BEAR-STORY
THE PATHOS OF APPLAUSE
TOLD BY "THE NOTED TRAVELER"
UNCLE MART'S POEM
"LITTLE JACK JANITOR"
A Child-World, yet a wondrous world no less, To those who knew its boundless happiness. A simple old frame house—eight rooms in all— Set just one side the center of a small But very hopeful Indiana town,— The upper-story looking squarely down Upon the main street, and the main highway From East to West,—historic in its day, Known as The National Road—old-timers, all Who linger yet, will happily recall It as the scheme and handiwork, as well As property, of "Uncle Sam," and tell Of its importance, "long and long afore Railroads wuz ever dreamp' of!"—Furthermore, The reminiscent first Inhabitants Will make that old road blossom with romance Of snowy caravans, in long parade Of covered vehicles, of every grade From ox-cart of most primitive design, To Conestoga wagons, with their fine Deep-chested six-horse teams, in heavy gear, High names and chiming bells—to childish ear And eye entrancing as the glittering train Of some sun-smitten pageant of old Spain. And, in like spirit, haply they will tell You of the roadside forests, and the yell Of "wolfs" and "painters," in the long night-ride, And "screechin' catamounts" on every side.— Of stagecoach-days, highwaymen, and strange crimes, And yet unriddled mysteries of the times Called "Good Old." "And why 'Good Old'?" once a rare Old chronicler was asked, who brushed the hair Out of his twinkling eyes and said,—"Well John, They're 'good old times' because they're dead and gone!"
The old home site was portioned into three Distinctive lots. The front one—natively Facing to southward, broad and gaudy-fine With lilac, dahlia, rose, and flowering vine— The dwelling stood in; and behind that, and Upon the alley north and south, left hand, The old wood-house,—half, trimly stacked with wood, And half, a work-shop, where a workbench stood Steadfastly through all seasons.—Over it, Along the wall, hung compass, brace-and-bit, And square, and drawing-knife, and smoothing-plane— And little jack-plane, too—the children's vain Possession by pretense—in fancy they Manipulating it in endless play, Turning out countless curls and loops of bright, Fine satin shavings—Rapture infinite! Shelved quilting-frames; the toolchest; the old box Of refuse nails and screws; a rough gun-stock's Outline in "curly maple"; and a pair Of clamps and old krout-cutter hanging there. Some "patterns," in thin wood, of shield and scroll, Hung higher, with a neat "cane-fishing-pole" And careful tackle—all securely out Of reach of children, rummaging about.
Beside the wood-house, with broad branches free Yet close above the roof, an apple-tree Known as "The Prince's Harvest"—Magic phrase! That was a boy's own tree, in many ways!— Its girth and height meet both for the caress Of his bare legs and his ambitiousness: And then its apples, humoring his whim, Seemed just to fairly hurry ripe for him— Even in June, impetuous as he, They dropped to meet him, halfway up the tree. And O their bruised sweet faces where they fell!— And ho! the lips that feigned to "kiss them well"!
"The Old Sweet-Apple-Tree," a stalwart, stood In fairly sympathetic neighborhood Of this wild princeling with his early gold To toss about so lavishly nor hold In bounteous hoard to overbrim at once All Nature's lap when came the Autumn months. Under the spacious shade of this the eyes Of swinging children saw swift-changing skies Of blue and green, with sunshine shot between, And "when the old cat died" they saw but green. And, then, there was a cherry-tree.—We all And severally will yet recall From our lost youth, in gentlest memory, The blessed fact—There was a cherry-tree.
There was a cherry-tree. Its bloomy snows Cool even now the fevered sight that knows No more its airy visions of pure joy— As when you were a boy.
There was a cherry-tree. The Bluejay set His blue against its white—O blue as jet He seemed there then!—But now—Whoever knew He was so pale a blue!
There was a cherry-tree—Our child-eyes saw The miracle:—Its pure white snows did thaw Into a crimson fruitage, far too sweet But for a boy to eat.
There was a cherry-tree, give thanks and joy!— There was a bloom of snow—There was a boy— There was a Bluejay of the realest blue— And fruit for both of you.
Then the old garden, with the apple-trees Grouped 'round the margin, and "a stand of bees" By the "white-winter-pearmain"; and a row Of currant-bushes; and a quince or so. The old grape-arbor in the center, by The pathway to the stable, with the sty Behind it, and upon it, cootering flocks Of pigeons, and the cutest "martin-box"!— Made like a sure-enough house—with roof, and doors And windows in it, and veranda-floors And balusters all 'round it—yes, and at Each end a chimney—painted red at that And penciled white, to look like little bricks; And, to cap all the builder's cunning tricks, Two tiny little lightning-rods were run Straight up their sides, and twinkled in the sun. Who built it? Nay, no answer but a smile.— It may be you can guess who, afterwhile. Home in his stall, "Old Sorrel" munched his hay And oats and corn, and switched the flies away, In a repose of patience good to see, And earnest of the gentlest pedigree. With half pathetic eye sometimes he gazed Upon the gambols of a colt that grazed Around the edges of the lot outside, And kicked at nothing suddenly, and tried To act grown-up and graceful and high-bred, But dropped, k'whop! and scraped the buggy-shed, Leaving a tuft of woolly, foxy hair Under the sharp-end of a gate-hinge there. Then, all ignobly scrambling to his feet And whinneying a whinney like a bleat, He would pursue himself around the lot And—do the whole thing over, like as not!... Ah! what a life of constant fear and dread And flop and squawk and flight the chickens led! Above the fences, either side, were seen The neighbor-houses, set in plots of green Dooryards and greener gardens, tree and wall Alike whitewashed, and order in it all: The scythe hooked in the tree-fork; and the spade And hoe and rake and shovel all, when laid Aside, were in their places, ready for The hand of either the possessor or Of any neighbor, welcome to the loan Of any tool he might not chance to own.
THE OLD-HOME FOLKS
Such was the Child-World of the long-ago— The little world these children used to know:— Johnty, the oldest, and the best, perhaps, Of the five happy little Hoosier chaps Inhabiting this wee world all their own.— Johnty, the leader, with his native tone Of grave command—a general on parade Whose each punctilious order was obeyed By his proud followers.
But Johnty yet— After all serious duties—could forget The gravity of life to the extent, At times, of kindling much astonishment About him: With a quick, observant eye, And mind and memory, he could supply The tamest incident with liveliest mirth; And at the most unlooked-for times on earth Was wont to break into some travesty On those around him—feats of mimicry Of this one's trick of gesture—that one's walk— Or this one's laugh—or that one's funny talk,— The way "the watermelon-man" would try His humor on town-folks that wouldn't buy;— How he drove into town at morning—then At dusk (alas!) how he drove out again.
Though these divertisements of Johnty's were Hailed with a hearty glee and relish, there Appeared a sense, on his part, of regret— A spirit of remorse that would not let Him rest for days thereafter.—Such times he, As some boy said, "jist got too overly Blame good fer common boys like us, you know, To 'sociate with—less'n we 'ud go And jine his church!"
Next after Johnty came His little tow-head brother, Bud by name.— And O how white his hair was—and how thick His face with freckles,—and his ears, how quick And curious and intrusive!—And how pale The blue of his big eyes;—and how a tale Of Giants, Trolls or Fairies, bulged them still Bigger and bigger!—and when "Jack" would kill The old "Four-headed Giant," Bud's big eyes Were swollen truly into giant-size. And Bud was apt in make-believes—would hear His Grandma talk or read, with such an ear And memory of both subject and big words, That he would take the book up afterwards And feign to "read aloud," with such success As caused his truthful elders real distress. But he must have big words—they seemed to give Extremer range to the superlative— That was his passion. "My Gran'ma," he said, One evening, after listening as she read Some heavy old historical review— With copious explanations thereunto Drawn out by his inquiring turn of mind,— "My Gran'ma she's read all books—ever' kind They is, 'at tells all 'bout the land an' sea An' Nations of the Earth!—An' she is the Historicul-est woman ever wuz!" (Forgive the verse's chuckling as it does In its erratic current.—Oftentimes The little willowy waterbrook of rhymes Must falter in its music, listening to The children laughing as they used to do.)
Who shall sing a simple ditty all about the Willow, Dainty-fine and delicate as any bending spray That dandles high the happy bird that flutters there to trill a Tremulously tender song of greeting to the May.
Ah, my lovely Willow!—Let the Waters lilt your graces,— They alone with limpid kisses lave your leaves above, Flashing back your sylvan beauty, and in shady places Peering up with glimmering pebbles, like the eyes of love.
Next, Maymie, with her hazy cloud of hair, And the blue skies of eyes beneath it there. Her dignified and "little lady" airs Of never either romping up the stairs Or falling down them; thoughtful everyway Of others first—The kind of child at play That "gave up," for the rest, the ripest pear Or peach or apple in the garden there Beneath the trees where swooped the airy swing— She pushing it, too glad for anything! Or, in the character of hostess, she Would entertain her friends delightfully In her play-house,—with strips of carpet laid Along the garden-fence within the shade Of the old apple-trees—where from next yard Came the two dearest friends in her regard, The little Crawford girls, Ella and Lu— As shy and lovely as the lilies grew In their idyllic home,—yet sometimes they Admitted Bud and Alex to their play, Who did their heavier work and helped them fix To have a "Festibul"—and brought the bricks And built the "stove," with a real fire and all, And stovepipe-joint for chimney, looming tall And wonderfully smoky—even to Their childish aspirations, as it blew And swooped and swirled about them till their sight Was feverish even as their high delight. Then Alex, with his freckles, and his freaks Of temper, and the peach-bloom of his cheeks, And "amber-colored hair"—his mother said 'Twas that, when others laughed and called it "red" And Alex threw things at them—till they'd call A truce, agreeing "'t'uz n't red ut-tall!"
But Alex was affectionate beyond The average child, and was extremely fond Of the paternal relatives of his Of whom he once made estimate like this:— "I'm only got two brothers,—but my Pa He's got most brothers'n you ever saw!— He's got seben brothers!—Yes, an' they're all my Seben Uncles!—Uncle John, an' Jim,—an' I' Got Uncle George, an' Uncle Andy, too, An' Uncle Frank, an' Uncle Joe.—An' you Know Uncle Mart.—An', all but him, they're great Big mens!—An' nen s Aunt Sarah—she makes eight!— I'm got eight uncles!—'cept Aunt Sarah can't Be ist my uncle 'cause she's ist my aunt!"
Then, next to Alex—and the last indeed Of these five little ones of whom you read— Was baby Lizzie, with her velvet lisp,— As though her Elfin lips had caught some wisp Of floss between them as they strove with speech, Which ever seemed just in yet out of reach— Though what her lips missed, her dark eyes could say With looks that made her meaning clear as day.
And, knowing now the children, you must know The father and the mother they loved so:— The father was a swarthy man, black-eyed, Black-haired, and high of forehead; and, beside The slender little mother, seemed in truth A very king of men—since, from his youth, To his hale manhood now—(worthy as then,— A lawyer and a leading citizen Of the proud little town and county-seat— His hopes his neighbors', and their fealty sweet)— He had known outdoor labor—rain and shine— Bleak Winter, and bland Summer—foul and fine. So Nature had ennobled him and set Her symbol on him like a coronet: His lifted brow, and frank, reliant face.— Superior of stature as of grace, Even the children by the spell were wrought Up to heroics of their simple thought, And saw him, trim of build, and lithe and straight And tall, almost, as at the pasture-gate The towering ironweed the scythe had spared For their sakes, when The Hired Man declared It would grow on till it became a tree, With cocoanuts and monkeys in—maybe!
Yet, though the children, in their pride and awe And admiration of the father, saw A being so exalted—even more Like adoration was the love they bore The gentle mother.—Her mild, plaintive face Was purely fair, and haloed with a grace And sweetness luminous when joy made glad Her features with a smile; or saintly sad As twilight, fell the sympathetic gloom Of any childish grief, or as a room Were darkened suddenly, the curtain drawn Across the window and the sunshine gone. Her brow, below her fair hair's glimmering strands, Seemed meetest resting-place for blessing hands Or holiest touches of soft finger-tips And little roseleaf-cheeks and dewy lips.
Though heavy household tasks were pitiless, No little waist or coat or checkered dress But knew her needle's deftness; and no skill Matched hers in shaping pleat or flounce or frill; Or fashioning, in complicate design, All rich embroideries of leaf and vine, With tiniest twining tendril,—bud and bloom And fruit, so like, one's fancy caught perfume And dainty touch and taste of them, to see Their semblance wrought in such rare verity.
Shrined in her sanctity of home and love, And love's fond service and reward thereof, Restore her thus, O blessed Memory!— Throned in her rocking-chair, and on her knee Her sewing—her workbasket on the floor Beside her,—Springtime through the open door Balmily stealing in and all about The room; the bees' dim hum, and the far shout And laughter of the children at their play, And neighbor-children from across the way Calling in gleeful challenge—save alone One boy whose voice sends back no answering tone— The boy, prone on the floor, above a book Of pictures, with a rapt, ecstatic look— Even as the mother's, by the selfsame spell, Is lifted, with a light ineffable— As though her senses caught no mortal cry, But heard, instead, some poem going by.
The Child-heart is so strange a little thing— So mild—so timorously shy and small.— When grown-up hearts throb, it goes scampering Behind the wall, nor dares peer out at all!— It is the veriest mouse That hides in any house— So wild a little thing is any Child-heart!
Child-heart!—mild heart!— Ho, my little wild heart!— Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
So lorn at times the Child-heart needs must be. With never one maturer heart for friend And comrade, whose tear-ripened sympathy And love might lend it comfort to the end,— Whose yearnings, aches and stings. Over poor little things Were pitiful as ever any Child-heart.
Child-heart!—mild heart!— Ho, my little wild heart!— Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
Times, too, the little Child-heart must be glad— Being so young, nor knowing, as we know. The fact from fantasy, the good from bad, The joy from woe, the—all that hurts us so! What wonder then that thus It hides away from us?— So weak a little thing is any Child-heart!
Child-heart!—mild heart!— Ho, my little wild heart!— Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
Nay, little Child-heart, you have never need To fear us,—we are weaker far than you— Tis we who should be fearful—we indeed Should hide us, too, as darkly as you do,— Safe, as yourself, withdrawn, Hearing the World roar on Too willful, woful, awful for the Child-heart!
Child-heart!—mild heart!— Ho, my little wild heart!— Come up here to me out o' the dark, Or let me come to you!
The clock chats on confidingly; a rose Taps at the window, as the sunlight throws A brilliant, jostling checkerwork of shine And shadow, like a Persian-loom design, Across the homemade carpet—fades,—and then The dear old colors are themselves again. Sounds drop in visiting from everywhere— The bluebird's and the robin's trill are there, Their sweet liquidity diluted some By dewy orchard spaces they have come: Sounds of the town, too, and the great highway— The Mover-wagons' rumble, and the neigh Of overtraveled horses, and the bleat Of sheep and low of cattle through the street— A Nation's thoroughfare of hopes and fears, First blazed by the heroic pioneers Who gave up old-home idols and set face Toward the unbroken West, to found a race And tame a wilderness now mightier than All peoples and all tracts American. Blent with all outer sounds, the sounds within:— In mild remoteness falls the household din Of porch and kitchen: the dull jar and thump Of churning; and the "glung-glung" of the pump, With sudden pad and skurry of bare feet Of little outlaws, in from field or street: The clang of kettle,—rasp of damper-ring And bang of cookstove-door—and everything That jingles in a busy kitchen lifts Its individual wrangling voice and drifts In sweetest tinny, coppery, pewtery tone Of music hungry ear has ever known In wildest famished yearning and conceit Of youth, to just cut loose and eat and eat!— The zest of hunger still incited on To childish desperation by long-drawn Breaths of hot, steaming, wholesome things that stew And blubber, and up-tilt the pot-lids, too, Filling the sense with zestful rumors of The dear old-fashioned dinners children love: Redolent savorings of home-cured meats, Potatoes, beans, and cabbage; turnips, beets And parsnips—rarest composite entire That ever pushed a mortal child's desire To madness by new-grated fresh, keen, sharp Horseradish—tang that sets the lips awarp And watery, anticipating all The cloyed sweets of the glorious festival.— Still add the cinnamony, spicy scents Of clove, nutmeg, and myriad condiments In like-alluring whiffs that prophesy Of sweltering pudding, cake, and custard pie— The swooning-sweet aroma haunting all The house—upstairs and down—porch, parlor, hall And sitting-room—invading even where The Hired Man sniffs it in the orchard-air, And pauses in his pruning of the trees To note the sun minutely and to—sneeze.
Then Cousin Rufus comes—the children hear His hale voice in the old hall, ringing clear As any bell. Always he came with song Upon his lips and all the happy throng Of echoes following him, even as the crowd Of his admiring little kinsmen—proud To have a cousin grown—and yet as young Of soul and cheery as the songs he sung.
He was a student of the law—intent Soundly to win success, with all it meant; And so he studied—even as he played,— With all his heart: And so it was he made His gallant fight for fortune—through all stress Of battle bearing him with cheeriness And wholesome valor.
And the children had Another relative who kept them glad And joyous by his very merry ways— As blithe and sunny as the summer days,— Their father's youngest brother—Uncle Mart. The old "Arabian Nights" he knew by heart— "Baron Munchausen," too; and likewise "The Swiss Family Robinson."—And when these three Gave out, as he rehearsed them, he could go Straight on in the same line—a steady flow Of arabesque invention that his good Old mother never clearly understood. He was to be a printer—wanted, though, To be an actor.—But the world was "show" Enough for him,—theatric, airy, gay,— Each day to him was jolly as a play. And some poetic symptoms, too, in sooth, Were certain.—And, from his apprentice youth, He joyed in verse-quotations—which he took Out of the old "Type Foundry Specimen Book." He craved and courted most the favor of The children.—They were foremost in his love; And pleasing them, he pleased his own boy-heart And kept it young and fresh in every part. So was it he devised for them and wrought To life his quaintest, most romantic thought:— Like some lone castaway in alien seas, He built a house up in the apple-trees, Out in the corner of the garden, where No man-devouring native, prowling there, Might pounce upon them in the dead o' night— For lo, their little ladder, slim and light, They drew up after them. And it was known That Uncle Mart slipped up sometimes alone And drew the ladder in, to lie and moon Over some novel all the afternoon. And one time Johnty, from the crowd below,— Outraged to find themselves deserted so— Threw bodily their old black cat up in The airy fastness, with much yowl and din. Resulting, while a wild periphery Of cat went circling to another tree, And, in impassioned outburst, Uncle Mart Loomed up, and thus relieved his tragic heart:
"'Hence, long-tailed, ebon-eyed, nocturnal ranger! What led thee hither 'mongst the types and cases? Didst thou not know that running midnight races O'er standing types was fraught with imminent danger? Did hunger lead thee—didst thou think to find Some rich old cheese to fill thy hungry maw? Vain hope! for none but literary jaw Can masticate our cookery for the mind!'"
So likewise when, with lordly air and grace, He strode to dinner, with a tragic face With ink-spots on it from the office, he Would aptly quote more "Specimen-poetry—" Perchance like "'Labor's bread is sweet to eat, (Ahem!) And toothsome is the toiler's meat.'"
Ah, could you see them all, at lull of noon!— A sort of boisterous lull, with clink of spoon And clatter of deflecting knife, and plate Dropped saggingly, with its all-bounteous weight, And dragged in place voraciously; and then Pent exclamations, and the lull again.— The garland of glad faces 'round the board— Each member of the family restored To his or her place, with an extra chair Or two for the chance guests so often there.— The father's farmer-client, brought home from The courtroom, though he "didn't want to come Tel he jist saw he hat to!" he'd explain, Invariably, time and time again, To the pleased wife and hostess, as she pressed Another cup of coffee on the guest.— Or there was Johnty's special chum, perchance, Or Bud's, or both—each childish countenance Lit with a higher glow of youthful glee, To be together thus unbrokenly,— Jim Offutt, or Eck Skinner, or George Carr— The very nearest chums of Bud's these are,— So, very probably, one of the three, At least, is there with Bud, or ought to be. Like interchange the town-boys each had known— His playmate's dinner better than his own— Yet blest that he was ever made to stay At Almon Keefer's, any blessed day, For any meal!... Visions of biscuits, hot And flaky-perfect, with the golden blot Of molten butter for the center, clear, Through pools of clover-honey—dear-o-dear!— With creamy milk for its divine "farewell": And then, if any one delectable Might yet exceed in sweetness, O restore The cherry-cobbler of the days of yore Made only by Al Keefer's mother!—Why, The very thought of it ignites the eye Of memory with rapture—cloys the lip Of longing, till it seems to ooze and drip With veriest juice and stain and overwaste Of that most sweet delirium of taste That ever visited the childish tongue, Or proved, as now, the sweetest thing unsung.
Ah, Almon Keefer! what a boy you were, With your back-tilted hat and careless hair, And open, honest, fresh, fair face and eyes With their all-varying looks of pleased surprise And joyous interest in flower and tree, And poising humming-bird, and maundering bee.
The fields and woods he knew; the tireless tramp With gun and dog; and the night-fisher's camp— No other boy, save Bee Lineback, had won Such brilliant mastery of rod and gun. Even in his earliest childhood had he shown These traits that marked him as his father's own. Dogs all paid Almon honor and bow-wowed Allegiance, let him come in any crowd Of rabbit-hunting town-boys, even though His own dog "Sleuth" rebuked their acting so With jealous snarls and growlings.
But the best Of Almon's virtues—leading all the rest— Was his great love of books, and skill as well In reading them aloud, and by the spell Thereof enthralling his mute listeners, as They grouped about him in the orchard grass, Hinging their bare shins in the mottled shine And shade, as they lay prone, or stretched supine Beneath their favorite tree, with dreamy eyes And Argo-fandes voyaging the skies. "Tales of the Ocean" was the name of one Old dog's-eared book that was surpassed by none Of all the glorious list.—Its back was gone, But its vitality went bravely on In such delicious tales of land and sea As may not ever perish utterly. Of still more dubious caste, "Jack Sheppard" drew Full admiration; and "Dick Turpin," too. And, painful as the fact is to convey, In certain lurid tales of their own day, These boys found thieving heroes and outlaws They hailed with equal fervor of applause: "The League of the Miami"—why, the name Alone was fascinating—is the same, In memory, this venerable hour Of moral wisdom shorn of all its power, As it unblushingly reverts to when The old barn was "the Cave," and hears again The signal blown, outside the buggy-shed— The drowsy guard within uplifts his head, And "'Who goes there?'" is called, in bated breath— The challenge answered in a hush of death,— "Sh!—'Barney Gray!'" And then "'What do you seek?'" "'Stables of The League!'" the voice comes spent and weak, For, ha! the Law is on the "Chieftain's" trail— Tracked to his very lair!—Well, what avail? The "secret entrance" opens—closes.—So The "Robber-Captain" thus outwits his foe; And, safe once more within his "cavern-halls," He shakes his clenched fist at the warped plank-walls And mutters his defiance through the cracks At the balked Enemy's retreating backs As the loud horde flees pell-mell down the lane, And—Almon Keefer is himself again!
Excepting few, they were not books indeed Of deep import that Almon chose to read;— Less fact than fiction.—Much he favored those— If not in poetry, in hectic prose— That made our native Indian a wild, Feathered and fine-preened hero that a child Could recommend as just about the thing To make a god of, or at least a king. Aside from Almon's own books—two or three— His store of lore The Township Library Supplied him weekly: All the books with "or"s— Sub-titled—lured him—after "Indian Wars," And "Life of Daniel Boone,"—not to include Some few books spiced with humor,—"Robin Hood" And rare "Don Quixote."—And one time he took "Dadd's Cattle Doctor."... How he hugged the book And hurried homeward, with internal glee And humorous spasms of expectancy!— All this confession—as he promptly made It, the day later, writhing in the shade Of the old apple-tree with Johnty and Bud, Noey Bixler, and The Hired Hand— Was quite as funny as the book was not.... O Wonderland of wayward Childhood! what An easy, breezy realm of summer calm And dreamy gleam and gloom and bloom and balm Thou art!—The Lotus-Land the poet sung, It is the Child-World while the heart beats young....
While the heart beats young!—O the splendor of the Spring, With all her dewy jewels on, is not so fair a thing! The fairest, rarest morning of the blossom-time of May Is not so sweet a season as the season of to-day While Youth's diviner climate folds and holds us, close caressed, As we feel our mothers with us by the touch of face and breast;— Our bare feet in the meadows, and our fancies up among The airy clouds of morning—while the heart beats young.
While the heart beats young and our pulses leap and dance. With every day a holiday and life a glad romance,— We hear the birds with wonder, and with wonder watch their flight— Standing still the more enchanted, both of hearing and of sight, When they have vanished wholly,—for, in fancy, wing-to-wing We fly to Heaven with them; and, returning, still we sing The praises of this lower Heaven with tireless voice and tongue, Even as the Master sanctions—while the heart beats young.
While the heart beats young!—While the heart beats young! O green and gold old Earth of ours, with azure overhung And looped with rainbows!—grant us yet this grassy lap of thine— We would be still thy children, through the shower and the shine! So pray we, lisping, whispering, in childish love and trust With our beseeching hands and faces lifted from the dust By fervor of the poem, all unwritten and unsung, Thou givest us in answer, while the heart beats young.
Another hero of those youthful years Returns, as Noey Bixler's name appears. And Noey—if in any special way— Was notably good-natured.—Work or play He entered into with selfsame delight— A wholesome interest that made him quite As many friends among the old as young,— So everywhere were Noey's praises sung.
And he was awkward, fat and overgrown, With a round full-moon face, that fairly shone As though to meet the simile's demand. And, cumbrous though he seemed, both eye and hand Were dowered with the discernment and deft skill Of the true artisan: He shaped at will, In his old father's shop, on rainy days, Little toy-wagons, and curved-runner sleighs; The trimmest bows and arrows—fashioned, too. Of "seasoned timber," such as Noey knew How to select, prepare, and then complete, And call his little friends in from the street. "The very best bow," Noey used to say, "Haint made o' ash ner hick'ry thataway!— But you git mulberry—the bearin'-tree, Now mind ye! and you fetch the piece to me, And lem me git it seasoned; then, i gum! I'll make a bow 'at you kin brag on some! Er—ef you can't git mulberry,—you bring Me a' old locus' hitch-post, and i jing! I'll make a bow o' that 'at common bows Won't dast to pick on ner turn up their nose!" And Noey knew the woods, and all the trees, And thickets, plants and myriad mysteries Of swamp and bottom-land. And he knew where The ground-hog hid, and why located there.— He knew all animals that burrowed, swam, Or lived in tree-tops: And, by race and dam, He knew the choicest, safest deeps wherein Fish-traps might flourish nor provoke the sin Of theft in some chance peeking, prying sneak, Or town-boy, prowling up and down the creek. All four-pawed creatures tamable—he knew Their outer and their inner natures too; While they, in turn, were drawn to him as by Some subtle recognition of a tie Of love, as true as truth from end to end, Between themselves and this strange human friend. The same with birds—he knew them every one, And he could "name them, too, without a gun." No wonder Johnty loved him, even to The verge of worship.—Noey led him through The art of trapping redbirds—yes, and taught Him how to keep them when he had them caught— What food they needed, and just where to swing The cage, if he expected them to sing.
And Bud loved Noey, for the little pair Of stilts he made him; or the stout old hair Trunk Noey put on wheels, and laid a track Of scantling-railroad for it in the back Part of the barn-lot; or the cross-bow, made Just like a gun, which deadly weapon laid Against his shoulder as he aimed, and—"Sping!" He'd hear the rusty old nail zoon and sing— And zip! your Mr. Bluejay's wing would drop A farewell-feather from the old tree-top! And Maymie loved him, for the very small But perfect carriage for her favorite doll— A lady's carriage—not a baby-cab,— But oilcloth top, and two seats, lined with drab And trimmed with white lace-paper from a case Of shaving-soap his uncle bought some place At auction once.
And Alex loved him yet The best, when Noey brought him, for a pet, A little flying-squirrel, with great eyes— Big as a child's: And, childlike otherwise, It was at first a timid, tremulous, coy, Retiring little thing that dodged the boy And tried to keep in Noey's pocket;—till, In time, responsive to his patient will, It became wholly docile, and content With its new master, as he came and went,— The squirrel clinging flatly to his breast, Or sometimes scampering its craziest Around his body spirally, and then Down to his very heels and up again.
And Little Lizzie loved him, as a bee Loves a great ripe red apple—utterly. For Noey's ruddy morning-face she drew The window-blind, and tapped the window, too; Afar she hailed his coming, as she heard His tuneless whistling—sweet as any bird It seemed to her, the one lame bar or so Of old "Wait for the Wagon"—hoarse and low The sound was,—so that, all about the place, Folks joked and said that Noey "whistled bass"— The light remark originally made By Cousin Rufus, who knew notes, and played The flute with nimble skill, and taste as wall, And, critical as he was musical, Regarded Noey's constant whistling thus "Phenominally unmelodious." Likewise when Uncle Mart, who shared the love Of jest with Cousin Rufus hand-in-glove, Said "Noey couldn't whistle 'Bonny Doon' Even! and, he'd bet, couldn't carry a tune If it had handles to it!"
—But forgive The deviations here so fugitive, And turn again to Little Lizzie, whose High estimate of Noey we shall choose Above all others.—And to her he was Particularly lovable because He laid the woodland's harvest at her feet.— He brought her wild strawberries, honey-sweet And dewy-cool, in mats of greenest moss And leaves, all woven over and across With tender, biting "tongue-grass," and "sheep-sour," And twin-leaved beach-mast, prankt with bud and flower Of every gypsy-blossom of the wild, Dark, tangled forest, dear to any child.— All these in season. Nor could barren, drear, White and stark-featured Winter interfere With Noey's rare resources: Still the same He blithely whistled through the snow and came Beneath the window with a Fairy sled; And Little Lizzie, bundled heels-and-head, He took on such excursions of delight As even "Old Santy" with his reindeer might Have envied her! And, later, when the snow Was softening toward Springtime and the glow Of steady sunshine smote upon it,—then Came the magician Noey yet again— While all the children were away a day Or two at Grandma's!—and behold when they Got home once more;—there, towering taller than The doorway—stood a mighty, old Snow-Man!
A thing of peerless art—a masterpiece Doubtless unmatched by even classic Greece In heyday of Praxiteles.—Alone It loomed in lordly grandeur all its own. And steadfast, too, for weeks and weeks it stood, The admiration of the neighborhood As well as of the children Noey sought Only to honor in the work he wrought. The traveler paid it tribute, as he passed Along the highway—paused and, turning, cast A lingering, last look—as though to take A vivid print of it, for memory's sake, To lighten all the empty, aching miles Beyond with brighter fancies, hopes and smiles. The cynic put aside his biting wit And tacitly declared in praise of it; And even the apprentice-poet of the town Rose to impassioned heights, and then sat down And penned a panegyric scroll of rhyme That made the Snow-Man famous for all time.
And though, as now, the ever warmer sun Of summer had so melted and undone The perishable figure that—alas!— Not even in dwindled white against the grass— Was left its latest and minutest ghost, The children yet—materially, almost— Beheld it—circled 'round it hand-in-hand— (Or rather 'round the place it used to stand)— With "Ring-a-round-a-rosy! Bottle full O' posey!" and, with shriek and laugh, would pull From seeming contact with it—just as when It was the real-est of old Snow-Men.
"A NOTED TRAVELER"
Even in such a scene of senseless play The children were surprised one summer-day By a strange man who called across the fence, Inquiring for their father's residence; And, being answered that this was the place, Opened the gate, and with a radiant face, Came in and sat down with them in the shade And waited—till the absent father made His noon appearance, with a warmth and zest That told he had no ordinary guest In this man whose low-spoken name he knew At once, demurring as the stranger drew A stuffy notebook out and turned and set A big fat finger on a page and let The writing thereon testify instead Of further speech. And as the father read All silently, the curious children took Exacting inventory both of book And man:—He wore a long-napped white fur-hat Pulled firmly on his head, and under that Rather long silvery hair, or iron-gray— For he was not an old man,—anyway, Not beyond sixty. And he wore a pair Of square-framed spectacles—or rather there Were two more than a pair,—the extra two Flared at the corners, at the eyes' side-view, In as redundant vision as the eyes Of grasshoppers or bees or dragonflies. Later the children heard the father say He was "A Noted Traveler," and would stay Some days with them—In which time host and guest Discussed, alone, in deepest interest, Some vague, mysterious matter that defied The wistful children, loitering outside The spare-room door. There Bud acquired a quite New list of big words—such as "Disunite," And "Shibboleth," and "Aristocracy," And "Juggernaut," and "Squatter Sovereignty," And "Anti-slavery," "Emancipate," "Irrepressible conflict," and "The Great Battle of Armageddon"—obviously A pamphlet brought from Washington, D. C., And spread among such friends as might occur Of like views with "The Noted Traveler."
A PROSPECTIVE VISIT
While any day was notable and dear That gave the children Noey, history here Records his advent emphasized indeed With sharp italics, as he came to feed The stock one special morning, fair and bright, When Johnty and Bud met him, with delight Unusual even as their extra dress— Garbed as for holiday, with much excess Of proud self-consciousness and vain conceit In their new finery.—Far up the street They called to Noey, as he came, that they, As promised, both were going back that day To his house with him!
And by time that each Had one of Noey's hands—ceasing their speech And coyly anxious, in their new attire, To wake the comment of their mute desire,— Noey seemed rendered voiceless. Quite a while They watched him furtively.—He seemed to smile As though he would conceal it; and they saw Him look away, and his lips purse and draw In curious, twitching spasms, as though he might Be whispering,—while in his eye the white Predominated strangely.—Then the spell Gave way, and his pent speech burst audible: "They wuz two stylish little boys, and they wuz mighty bold ones, Had two new pairs o' britches made out o' their daddy's old ones!" And at the inspirational outbreak, Both joker and his victims seemed to take An equal share of laughter,—and all through Their morning visit kept recurring to The funny words and jingle of the rhyme That just kept getting funnier all the time.
AT NOEY'S HOUSE
At Noey's house—when they arrived with him— How snug seemed everything, and neat and trim: The little picket-fence, and little gate— It's little pulley, and its little weight,— All glib as clock-work, as it clicked behind Them, on the little red brick pathway, lined With little paint-keg-vases and teapots Of wee moss-blossoms and forgetmenots: And in the windows, either side the door, Were ranged as many little boxes more Of like old-fashioned larkspurs, pinks and moss And fern and phlox; while up and down across Them rioted the morning-glory-vines On taut-set cotton-strings, whose snowy lines Whipt in and out and under the bright green Like basting-threads; and, here and there between, A showy, shiny hollyhock would flare Its pink among the white and purple there.— And still behind the vines, the children saw A strange, bleached, wistful face that seemed to draw A vague, indefinite sympathy. A face It was of some newcomer to the place.— In explanation, Noey, briefly, said That it was "Jason," as he turned and led The little fellows 'round the house to show Them his menagerie of pets. And so For quite a time the face of the strange guest Was partially forgotten, as they pressed About the squirrel-cage and rousted both The lazy inmates out, though wholly loath To whirl the wheel for them.—And then with awe They walked 'round Noey's big pet owl, and saw Him film his great, clear, liquid eyes and stare And turn and turn and turn his head 'round there The same way they kept circling—as though he Could turn it one way thus eternally.
Behind the kitchen, then, with special pride Noey stirred up a terrapin inside The rain-barrel where he lived, with three or four Little mud-turtles of a size not more In neat circumference than the tiny toy Dumb-watches worn by every little boy.
Then, back of the old shop, beneath the tree Of "rusty-coats," as Noey called them, he Next took the boys, to show his favorite new Pet 'coon—pulled rather coyly into view Up through a square hole in the bottom of An old inverted tub he bent above, Yanking a little chain, with "Hey! you, sir! Here's comp'ny come to see you, Bolivur!" Explanatory, he went on to say, "I named him 'Bolivur' jes thisaway,— He looks so round and ovalish and fat, 'Peared like no other name 'ud fit but that."
Here Noey's father called and sent him on Some errand. "Wait," he said—"I won't be gone A half a' hour.—Take Bud, and go on in Where Jason is, tel I git back agin."
Whoever Jason was, they found him there Still at the front-room window.—By his chair Leaned a new pair of crutches; and from one Knee down, a leg was bandaged.—"Jason done That-air with one o' these-'ere tools we call A 'shin-hoe'—but a foot-adz mostly all Hardware-store-keepers calls 'em."—(Noey made This explanation later.)
Jason paid But little notice to the boys as they Came in the room:—An idle volume lay Upon his lap—the only book in sight— And Johnty read the title,—"Light, More Light, There's Danger in the Dark,"—though first and best— In fact, the whole of Jason's interest Seemed centered on a little dog—one pet Of Noey's all uncelebrated yet— Though Jason, certainly, avowed his worth, And niched him over all the pets on earth— As the observant Johnty would relate The Jason-episode, and imitate The all-enthusiastic speech and air Of Noey's kinsman and his tribute there:—
"THAT LITTLE DOG"
"That little dog 'ud scratch at that door And go on a-whinin' two hours before He'd ever let up! There!—Jane: Let him in.— (Hah, there, you little rat!) Look at him grin! Come down off o' that!— W'y, look at him! (Drat You! you-rascal-you!)—bring me that hat! Look out!—He'll snap you!—He wouldn't let You take it away from him, now you kin bet! That little rascal's jist natchurly mean.— I tell you, I never (Git out!! ) never seen A spunkier little rip! (Scratch to git in, And now yer a-scratchin' to git out agin! Jane: Let him out!) Now, watch him from here Out through the winder!—You notice one ear Kindo' in side-out, like he holds it?—Well, He's got a tick in it—I kin tell! Yes, and he's cunnin'— Jist watch him a-runnin', Sidelin'—see!—like he ain't 'plum'd true' And legs don't 'track' as they'd ort to do:— Plowin' his nose through the weeds—I jing! Ain't he jist cuter'n anything!
"W'y, that little dog's got grown-people's sense!— See how he gits out under the fence?— And watch him a-whettin' his hind-legs 'fore His dead square run of a miled er more— 'Cause Noey's a-comin', and Trip allus knows When Noey's a-comin'—and off he goes!— Putts out to meet him and—There they come now! Well-sir! it's raially singalar how That dog kin tell,— But he knows as well When Noey's a-comin' home!—Reckon his smell 'Ud carry two miled?—You needn't to smile— He runs to meet him, ever'-once-n-a-while, Two miled and over—when he's slipped away And left him at home here, as he's done to-day— 'Thout ever knowin' where Noey wuz goin'— But that little dog allus hits the right way! Hear him a-whinin' and scratchin' agin?— (Little tormentin' fice!) Jane: Let him in.
"—You say he ain't there?— Well now, I declare!— Lem me limp out and look! ... I wunder where— Heuh, Trip!—Heuh, Trip!—Heuh, Trip!... There— There he is!—Little sneak!—What-a'-you-'bout?— There he is—quiled up as meek as a mouse, His tail turnt up like a teakittle-spout, A-sunnin' hisse'f at the side o' the house! Next time you scratch, sir, you'll haf to git in, My fine little feller, the best way you kin! —Noey he learns him sich capers!—And they— Both of 'em's ornrier every day!— Both tantalizin' and meaner'n sin— Allus a—(Listen there!)—Jane: Let him in.
"—O! yer so innocent! hangin' yer head!— (Drat ye! you'd better git under the bed!) —Listen at that!— He's tackled the cat!— Hah, there! you little rip! come out o' that!— Git yer blame little eyes scratched out 'Fore you know what yer talkin' about!— Here! come away from there!—(Let him alone— He'll snap you, I tell ye, as quick as a bone!) Hi, Trip!—Hey, here!—What-a'-you-'bout!— Oo! ouch! 'Ll I'll be blamed!—Blast ye! GIT OUT! ... O, it ain't nothin'—jist scratched me, you see.— Hadn't no idy he'd try to bite me! Plague take him!—Bet he'll not try that agin!— Hear him yelp.—(Pore feller!) Jane: Let him in."
THE LOEHRS AND THE HAMMONDS
"Hey, Bud! O Bud!" rang out a gleeful call,— "The Loehrs is come to your house!" And a small But very much elated little chap, In snowy linen-suit and tasseled cap, Leaped from the back-fence just across the street From Bixlers', and came galloping to meet His equally delighted little pair Of playmates, hurrying out to join him there— "The Loehrs is come!—The Loehrs is come!" his glee Augmented to a pitch of ecstasy Communicated wildly, till the cry "The Loehrs is come!" in chorus quavered high And thrilling as some paean of challenge or Soul-stirring chant of armied conqueror. And who this avant courier of "the Loehrs"?— This happiest of all boys out-o'-doors— Who but Will Pierson, with his heart's excess Of summer-warmth and light and breeziness! "From our front winder I 'uz first to see 'Em all a-drivin' into town!" bragged he— "An' seen 'em turnin' up the alley where Your folks lives at. An' John an' Jake wuz there Both in the wagon;—yes, an' Willy, too; An' Mary—Yes, an' Edith—with bran-new An' purtiest-trimmed hats 'at ever wuz!— An' Susan, an' Janey.—An' the Hammonds-uz In their fine buggy 'at they're ridin' roun' So much, all over an' aroun' the town An' ever'wheres,—them city-people who's A-visutin' at Loehrs-uz!"
Glorious news!— Even more glorious when verified In the boys' welcoming eyes of love and pride, As one by one they greeted their old friends And neighbors.—Nor until their earth-life ends Will that bright memory become less bright Or dimmed indeed.
... Again, at candle-light, The faces all are gathered. And how glad The Mother's features, knowing that she had Her dear, sweet Mary Loehr back again.— She always was so proud of her; and then The dear girl, in return, was happy, too, And with a heart as loving, kind and true As that maturer one which seemed to blend As one the love of mother and of friend. From time to time, as hand-in-hand they sat, The fair girl whispered something low, whereat A tender, wistful look would gather in The mother-eyes; and then there would begin A sudden cheerier talk, directed to The stranger guests—the man and woman who, It was explained, were coming now to make Their temporary home in town for sake Of the wife's somewhat failing health. Yes, they Were city-people, seeking rest this way, The man said, answering a query made By some well meaning neighbor—with a shade Of apprehension in the answer.... No,— They had no children. As he answered so, The man's arm went about his wife, and she Leant toward him, with her eyes lit prayerfully: Then she arose—he following—and bent Above the little sleeping innocent Within the cradle at the mother's side— He patting her, all silent, as she cried.— Though, haply, in the silence that ensued, His musings made melodious interlude.
In the warm, health-giving weather My poor pale wife and I Drive up and down the little town And the pleasant roads thereby: Out in the wholesome country We wind, from the main highway, In through the wood's green solitudes— Fair as the Lord's own Day.
We have lived so long together. And joyed and mourned as one, That each with each, with a look for speech, Or a touch, may talk as none But Love's elect may comprehend— Why, the touch of her hand on mine Speaks volume-wise, and the smile of her eyes, To me, is a song divine.
There are many places that lure us:— "The Old Wood Bridge" just west Of town we know—and the creek below, And the banks the boys love best: And "Beech Grove," too, on the hill-top; And "The Haunted House" beyond, With its roof half off, and its old pump-trough Adrift in the roadside pond.
We find our way to "The Marshes"— At least where they used to be; And "The Old Camp Grounds"; and "The Indian Mounds," And the trunk of "The Council Tree:" We have crunched and splashed through "Flint-bed Ford"; And at "Old Big Bee-gum Spring" We have stayed the cup, half lifted up. Hearing the redbird sing.
And then, there is "Wesley Chapel," With its little graveyard, lone At the crossroads there, though the sun sets fair On wild-rose, mound and stone ... A wee bed under the willows— My wife's hand on my own— And our horse stops, too ... And we hear the coo Of a dove in undertone.
The dusk, the dew, and the silence. "Old Charley" turns his head Homeward then by the pike again, Though never a word is said— One more stop, and a lingering one— After the fields and farms,— At the old Toll Gate, with the woman await With a little girl in her arms.
The silence sank—Floretty came to call The children in the kitchen, where they all Went helter-skeltering with shout and din Enough to drown most sanguine silence in,— For well indeed they knew that summons meant Taffy and popcorn—so with cheers they went.
THE HIRED MAN AND FLORETTY
The Hired Man's supper, which he sat before, In near reach of the wood-box, the stove-door And one leaf of the kitchen-table, was Somewhat belated, and in lifted pause His dextrous knife was balancing a bit Of fried mush near the port awaiting it.
At the glad children's advent—gladder still To find him there—"Jest tickled fit to kill To see ye all!" he said, with unctious cheer.— "I'm tryin'-like to he'p Floretty here To git things cleared away and give ye room Accordin' to yer stren'th. But I p'sume It's a pore boarder, as the poet says, That quarrels with his victuals, so I guess I'll take another wedge o' that-air cake, Florett', that you're a-learnin' how to bake." He winked and feigned to swallow painfully.—
"Jest 'fore ye all come in, Floretty she Was boastin' 'bout her biscuits—and they air As good—sometimes—as you'll find anywhere.— But, women gits to braggin' on their bread, I'm s'picious 'bout their pie—as Danty said." This raillery Floretty strangely seemed To take as compliment, and fairly beamed With pleasure at it all.
—"Speakin' o' bread— When she come here to live," The Hired Man said,— "Never ben out o' Freeport 'fore she come Up here,—of course she needed 'sperience some.— So, one day, when yer Ma was goin' to set The risin' fer some bread, she sent Florett To borry leaven, 'crost at Ryans'—So, She went and asked fer twelve.—She didn't know, But thought, whatever 'twuz, that she could keep One fer herse'f, she said. O she wuz deep!"
Some little evidence of favor hailed The Hired Man's humor; but it wholly failed To touch the serious Susan Loehr, whose air And thought rebuked them all to listening there To her brief history of the city-man And his pale wife—"A sweeter woman than She ever saw!"—So Susan testified,— And so attested all the Loehrs beside.— So entertaining was the history, that The Hired Man, in the corner where he sat In quiet sequestration, shelling corn, Ceased wholly, listening, with a face forlorn As Sorrow's own, while Susan, John and Jake Told of these strangers who had come to make Some weeks' stay in the town, in hopes to gain Once more the health the wife had sought in vain: Their doctor, in the city, used to know The Loehrs—Dan and Rachel—years ago,— And so had sent a letter and request For them to take a kindly interest In favoring the couple all they could— To find some home-place for them, if they would, Among their friends in town. He ended by A dozen further lines, explaining why His patient must have change of scene and air— New faces, and the simple friendships there With them, which might, in time, make her forget A grief that kept her ever brooding yet And wholly melancholy and depressed,— Nor yet could she find sleep by night nor rest By day, for thinking—thinking—thinking still Upon a grief beyond the doctor's skill,— The death of her one little girl.
"Pore thing!" Floretty sighed, and with the turkey-wing Brushed off the stove-hearth softly, and peered in The kettle of molasses, with her thin Voice wandering into song unconsciously— In purest, if most witless, sympathy.—
"'Then sleep no more: Around thy heart Some ten-der dream may i-dlee play. But mid-night song, With mad-jick art, Will chase that dree muh-way!'"
"That-air besetment of Floretty's," said The Hired Man,—"singin—she inhairited,— Her father wuz addicted—same as her— To singin'—yes, and played the dulcimer! But—gittin' back,—I s'pose yer talkin' 'bout Them Hammondses. Well, Hammond he gits out Pattents on things—inventions-like, I'm told— And's got more money'n a house could hold! And yit he can't git up no pattent-right To do away with dyin'.—And he might Be worth a million, but he couldn't find Nobody sellin' health of any kind!... But they's no thing onhandier fer me To use than other people's misery.— Floretty, hand me that-air skillet there And lem me git 'er het up, so's them-air Childern kin have their popcorn."
It was good To hear him now, and so the children stood Closer about him, waiting.
"Things to eat," The Hired Man went on, "'s mighty hard to beat! Now, when I wuz a boy, we was so pore, My parunts couldn't 'ford popcorn no more To pamper me with;—so, I hat to go Without popcorn—sometimes a year er so!— And suffer'n' saints! how hungry I would git Fer jest one other chance—like this—at it! Many and many a time I've dreamp', at night, About popcorn,—all busted open white, And hot, you know—and jest enough o' salt And butter on it fer to find no fault— Oomh!—Well! as I was goin' on to say,— After a-dreamin' of it thataway, Then havin' to wake up and find it's all A dream, and hain't got no popcorn at-tall, Ner haint had none—I'd think, 'Well, where's the use!' And jest lay back and sob the plaster'n' loose! And I have prayed, whatever happened, it 'Ud eether be popcorn er death!.... And yit I've noticed—more'n likely so have you— That things don't happen when you want 'em to."
And thus he ran on artlessly, with speech And work in equal exercise, till each Tureen and bowl brimmed white. And then he greased The saucers ready for the wax, and seized The fragrant-steaming kettle, at a sign Made by Floretty; and, each child in line, He led out to the pump—where, in the dim New coolness of the night, quite near to him He felt Floretty's presence, fresh and sweet As ... dewy night-air after kitchen-heat.
There, still, with loud delight of laugh and jest, They plied their subtle alchemy with zest— Till, sudden, high above their tumult, welled Out of the sitting-room a song which held Them stilled in some strange rapture, listening To the sweet blur of voices chorusing:—
"'When twilight approaches the season That ever is sacred to song, Does some one repeat my name over, And sigh that I tarry so long? And is there a chord in the music That's missed when my voice is away?— And a chord in each heart that awakens Regret at my wearisome stay-ay— Regret at my wearisome stay.'"
All to himself, The Hired Man thought—"Of course They'll sing Floretty homesick!"
... O strange source Of ecstasy! O mystery of Song!— To hear the dear old utterance flow along:—
"'Do they set me a chair near the table When evening's home-pleasures are nigh?— When the candles are lit in the parlor. And the stars in the calm azure sky.'"...
Just then the moonlight sliced the porch slantwise, And flashed in misty spangles in the eyes Floretty clenched—while through the dark—"I jing!" A voice asked, "Where's that song 'you'd learn to sing Ef I sent you the ballat?'—which I done Last I was home at Freeport.—S'pose you run And git it—and we'll all go in to where They'll know the notes and sing it fer ye there." And up the darkness of the old stairway Floretty fled, without a word to say— Save to herself some whisper muffled by Her apron, as she wiped her lashes dry.
Returning, with a letter, which she laid Upon the kitchen-table while she made A hasty crock of "float,"—poured thence into A deep glass dish of iridescent hue And glint and sparkle, with an overflow Of froth to crown it, foaming white as snow.— And then—poundcake, and jelly-cake as rare, For its delicious complement,—with air Of Hebe mortalized, she led her van Of votaries, rounded by The Hired Man.
THE EVENING COMPANY
Within the sitting-room, the company Had been increased in number. Two or three Young couples had been added: Emma King, Ella and Mary Mathers—all could sing Like veritable angels—Lydia Martin, too, And Nelly Millikan.—What songs they knew!—
"'Ever of Thee—wherever I may be, Fondly I'm drea-m-ing ever of thee!'"
And with their gracious voices blend the grace Of Warsaw Barnett's tenor; and the bass Unfathomed of Wick Chapman—Fancy still Can feel, as well as hear it, thrill on thrill, Vibrating plainly down the backs of chairs And through the wall and up the old hall-stairs.— Indeed young Chapman's voice especially Attracted Mr. Hammond—For, said he, Waiving the most Elysian sweetness of The ladies' voices—altitudes above The man's for sweetness;—but—as contrast, would Not Mr. Chapman be so very good As, just now, to oblige all with—in fact, Some sort of jolly song,—to counteract In part, at least, the sad, pathetic trend Of music generally. Which wish our friend "The Noted Traveler" made second to With heartiness—and so each, in review, Joined in—until the radiant basso cleared His wholly unobstructed throat and peered Intently at the ceiling—voice and eye As opposite indeed as earth and sky.— Thus he uplifted his vast bass and let It roam at large the memories booming yet:
"'Old Simon the Cellarer keeps a rare store Of Malmsey and Malvoi-sie, Of Cyprus, and who can say how many more?— But a chary old so-u-l is he-e-ee— A chary old so-u-l is he! Of hock and Canary he never doth fail; And all the year 'round, there is brewing of ale;— Yet he never aileth, he quaintly doth say, While he keeps to his sober six flagons a day.'"
... And then the chorus—the men's voices all Warred in it—like a German Carnival.— Even Mrs. Hammond smiled, as in her youth, Hearing her husband—And in veriest truth "The Noted Traveler's" ever-present hat Seemed just relaxed a little, after that, As at conclusion of the Bacchic song He stirred his "float" vehemently and long.
Then Cousin Rufus with his flute, and art Blown blithely through it from both soul and heart— Inspired to heights of mastery by the glad, Enthusiastic audience he had In the young ladies of a town that knew No other flutist,—nay, nor wanted to, Since they had heard his "Polly Hopkin's Waltz," Or "Rickett's Hornpipe," with its faultless faults, As rendered solely, he explained, "by ear," Having but heard it once, Commencement Year, At "Old Ann Arbor."
Little Maymie now Seemed "friends" with Mr. Hammond—anyhow, Was lifted to his lap—where settled, she— Enthroned thus, in her dainty majesty, Gained universal audience—although Addressing him alone:—"I'm come to show You my new Red-blue pencil; and she says"— (Pointing to Mrs. Hammond)—"that she guess' You'll make a picture fer me."
"And what kind Of picture?" Mr. Hammond asked, inclined To serve the child as bidden, folding square The piece of paper she had brought him there.— "I don't know," Maymie said—"only ist make A little dirl, like me!"
He paused to take A sharp view of the child, and then he drew— Awhile with red, and then awhile with blue— The outline of a little girl that stood In converse with a wolf in a great wood; And she had on a hood and cloak of red— As Maymie watched—"Red Riding Hood!" she said. "And who's 'Red Riding Hood'?"
"W'y, don't you know?" Asked little Maymie—
But the man looked so All uninformed, that little Maymie could But tell him all about Red Riding Hood.
MAYMIE'S STORY OF RED RIDING HOOD
W'y, one time wuz a little-weenty dirl, An' she wuz named Red Riding Hood, 'cause her— Her Ma she maked a little red cloak fer her 'At turnt up over her head—An' it 'uz all Ist one piece o' red cardinal 'at 's like The drate-long stockin's the store-keepers has.— O! it 'uz purtiest cloak in all the world An' all this town er anywheres they is! An' so, one day, her Ma she put it on Red Riding Hood, she did—one day, she did— An' it 'uz Sund'y—'cause the little cloak It 'uz too nice to wear ist ever' day An' all the time!—An' so her Ma, she put It on Red Riding Hood—an' telled her not To dit no dirt on it ner dit it mussed Ner nothin'! An'—an'—nen her Ma she dot Her little basket out, 'at Old Kriss bringed Her wunst—one time, he did. And nen she fill' It full o' whole lots an' 'bundance o' good things t' eat (Allus my Dran'ma she says ''bundance,' too.) An' so her Ma fill' little Red Riding Hood's Nice basket all ist full o' dood things t' eat, An' tell her take 'em to her old Dran'ma— An' not to spill 'em, neever—'cause ef she 'Ud stump her toe an' spill 'em, her Dran'ma She'll haf to punish her!
An' nen—An' so Little Red Riding Hood she p'omised she 'Ud be all careful nen an' cross' her heart 'At she wont run an' spill 'em all fer six— Five—ten—two-hundred-bushel-dollars-gold! An' nen she kiss her Ma doo'-bye an' went A-skippin' off—away fur off frough the Big woods, where her Dran'ma she live at.—No!— She didn't do a-skippin', like I said:— She ist went walkin'—careful-like an' slow— Ist like a little lady—walkin' 'long As all polite an' nice—an' slow—an' straight— An' turn her toes—ist like she's marchin' in The Sund'y-School k-session!
An'—an'—so She 'uz a-doin' along—an' doin' along— On frough the drate big woods—'cause her Dran'ma She live 'way, 'way fur off frough the big woods From her Ma's house. So when Red Riding Hood She dit to do there, allus have most fun— When she do frough the drate big woods, you know.— 'Cause she ain't feared a bit o' anything! An' so she sees the little hoppty-birds 'At's in the trees, an' flyin' all around, An' singin' dlad as ef their parunts said They'll take 'em to the magic-lantern show! An' she 'ud pull the purty flowers an' things A-growin' round the stumps—An' she 'ud ketch The purty butterflies, an' drasshoppers, An' stick pins frough 'em—No!—I ist said that!— 'Cause she's too dood an' kind an' 'bedient To hurt things thataway.—She'd ketch 'em, though, An' ist play wiv 'em ist a little while, An' nen she'd let 'em fly away, she would, An' ist skip on adin to her Dran'ma's.
An' so, while she uz doin' 'long an' 'long, First thing you know they 'uz a drate big old Mean wicked Wolf jumped out 'at wanted t' eat Her up, but dassent to—'cause wite clos't there They wuz a Man a-choppin' wood, an' you Could hear him.—So the old Wolf he 'uz 'feared Only to ist be kind to her.—So he Ist 'tended like he wuz dood friends to her An' says "Dood-morning, little Red Riding Hood!"— All ist as kind!
An' nen Riding Hood She say "Dood-morning," too—all kind an' nice— Ist like her Ma she learn'—No!—mustn't say "Learn," cause "Learn" it's unproper.—So she say It like her Ma she "teached" her.—An'—so she Ist says "Dood-morning" to the Wolf—'cause she Don't know ut-tall 'at he's a wicked Wolf An' want to eat her up!
Nen old Wolf smile An' say, so kind: "Where air you doin' at?" Nen little Red Riding Hood she says: "I'm doin' To my Dran'ma's, 'cause my Ma say I might." Nen, when she tell him that, the old Wolf he Ist turn an' light out frough the big thick woods, Where she can't see him any more. An so She think he's went to his house—but he haint,— He's went to her Dran'ma's, to be there first— An' ketch her, ef she don't watch mighty sharp What she's about!
An' nen when the old Wolf Dit to her Dran'ma's house, he's purty smart,— An' so he 'tend-like he's Red Riding Hood, An' knock at th' door. An' Riding Hood's Dran'ma She's sick in bed an' can't come to the door An' open it. So th' old Wolf knock two times. An' nen Red Riding Hood's Dran'ma she says "Who's there?" she says. An' old Wolf 'tends-like he's Little Red Riding Hood, you know, an' make' His voice soun' ist like hers, an' says: "It's me, Dran'ma—an' I'm Red Riding Hood an' I'm Ist come to see you."
Nen her old Dran'ma She think it is little Red Riding Hood, An' so she say: "Well, come in nen an' make You'se'f at home," she says, "'cause I'm down sick In bed, and got the 'ralgia, so's I can't Dit up an' let ye in."
An' so th' old Wolf Ist march' in nen an' shet the door adin, An' drowl, he did, an' splunge up on the bed An' et up old Miz Riding Hood 'fore she Could put her specs on an' see who it wuz.— An' so she never knowed who et her up!
An' nen the wicked Wolf he ist put on Her nightcap, an' all covered up in bed— Like he wuz her, you know.
Nen, purty soon Here come along little Red Riding Hood, An' she knock' at the door. An' old Wolf 'tend Like he's her Dran'ma; an' he say, "Who's there?" Ist like her Dran'ma say, you know. An' so Little Red Riding Hood she say "It's me, Dran'ma—an' I'm Red Riding Hood and I'm Ist come to see you."
An' nen old Wolf nen He cough an' say: "Well, come in nen an' make You'se'f at home," he says, "'cause I'm down sick In bed, an' got the 'ralgia, so's I can't Dit up an' let ye in."
An' so she think It's her Dran'ma a-talkin'.—So she ist Open' the door an' come in, an' set down Her basket, an' taked off her things, an' bringed A chair an' clumbed up on the bed, wite by The old big Wolf she thinks is her Dran'ma.— Only she thinks the old Wolf's dot whole lots More bigger ears, an' lots more whiskers, too, Than her Dran'ma; an' so Red Riding Hood She's kindo' skeered a little. So she says "Oh, Dran'ma, what big eyes you dot!" An' nen The old Wolf says: "They're ist big thataway 'Cause I'm so dlad to see you!"
Nen she says,— "Oh, Dran'ma, what a drate big nose you dot!" Nen th' old Wolf says: "It's ist big thataway Ist 'cause I smell the dood things 'at you bringed Me in the basket!"
An' nen Riding Hood She say "Oh-me-oh-my! Dran'ma! what big White long sharp teeth you dot!"
Nen old Wolf says: "Yes—an' they're thataway," he says—an' drowled— "They're thataway," he says, "to eat you wiv!" An' nen he ist jump' at her.—
But she scream'— An' scream', she did—So's 'at the Man 'At wuz a-choppin' wood, you know,—he hear, An' come a-runnin' in there wiv his ax; An', 'fore the old Wolf know' what he's about, He split his old brains out an' killed him s'quick It make' his head swim!—An' Red Riding Hood She wuzn't hurt at all!
An' the big Man He tooked her all safe home, he did, an' tell Her Ma she's all right an' ain't hurt at all An' old Wolf's dead an' killed—an' ever'thing!— So her Ma wuz so tickled an' so proud, She divved him all the dood things t' eat they wuz 'At's in the basket, an' she tell him 'at She's much oblige', an' say to "call adin." An' story's honest truth—an' all so, too!
LIMITATIONS OF GENIUS
The audience entire seemed pleased—indeed Extremely pleased. And little Maymie, freed From her task of instructing, ran to show Her wondrous colored picture to and fro Among the company.
"And how comes it," said Some one to Mr. Hammond, "that, instead Of the inventor's life you did not choose The artist's?—since the world can better lose A cutting-box or reaper than it can A noble picture painted by a man Endowed with gifts this drawing would suggest"— Holding the picture up to show the rest. "There now!" chimed in the wife, her pale face lit Like winter snow with sunrise over it,— "That's what I'm always asking him.—But he— Well, as he's answering you, he answers me,— With that same silent, suffocating smile He's wearing now!"
For quite a little while No further speech from anyone, although All looked at Mr. Hammond and that slow, Immutable, mild smile of his. And then The encouraged querist asked him yet again Why was it, and etcetera—with all The rest, expectant, waiting 'round the wall,— Until the gentle Mr. Hammond said He'd answer with a "parable," instead— About "a dreamer" that he used to know— "An artist"—"master"—all—in embryo.
MR. HAMMOND'S PARABLE
He was a Dreamer of the Days: Indolent as a lazy breeze Of midsummer, in idlest ways Lolling about in the shade of trees. The farmer turned—as he passed him by Under the hillside where he kneeled Plucking a flower—with scornful eye And rode ahead in the harvest field Muttering—"Lawz! ef that-air shirk Of a boy was mine fer a week er so, He'd quit dreamin' and git to work And airn his livin'—er—Well! I know!" And even kindlier rumor said, Tapping with finger a shaking head,— "Got such a curious kind o' way— Wouldn't surprise me much, I say!"
Lying limp, with upturned gaze Idly dreaming away his days. No companions? Yes, a book Sometimes under his arm he took To read aloud to a lonesome brook. And school-boys, truant, once had heard A strange voice chanting, faint and dim— Followed the echoes, and found it him, Perched in a tree-top like a bird, Singing, clean from the highest limb; And, fearful and awed, they all slipped by To wonder in whispers if he could fly. "Let him alone!" his father said When the old schoolmaster came to say, "He took no part in his books to-day— Only the lesson the readers read.— His mind seems sadly going astray!" "Let him alone!" came the mournful tone, And the father's grief in his sad eyes shone— Hiding his face in his trembling hand, Moaning, "Would I could understand! But as heaven wills it I accept Uncomplainingly!" So he wept.
Then went "The Dreamer" as he willed, As uncontrolled as a light sail filled Flutters about with an empty boat Loosed from its moorings and afloat: Drifted out from the busy quay Of dull school-moorings listlessly; Drifted off on the talking breeze, All alone with his reveries; Drifted on, as his fancies wrought— Out on the mighty gulfs of thought.
The farmer came in the evening gray And took the bars of the pasture down; Called to the cows in a coaxing way, "Bess" and "Lady" and "Spot" and "Brown," While each gazed with a wide-eyed stare, As though surprised at his coming there— Till another tone, in a higher key, Brought their obeyance lothfully.
Then, as he slowly turned and swung The topmost bar to its proper rest, Something fluttered along and clung An instant, shivering at his breast— A wind-scared fragment of legal cap, Which darted again, as he struck his hand On his sounding chest with a sudden slap, And hurried sailing across the land. But as it clung he had caught the glance Of a little penciled countenance, And a glamour of written words; and hence, A minute later, over the fence, "Here and there and gone astray Over the hills and far away," He chased it into a thicket of trees And took it away from the captious breeze.
A scrap of paper with a rhyme Scrawled upon it of summertime: A pencil-sketch of a dairy-maid, Under a farmhouse porch's shade, Working merrily; and was blent With her glad features such sweet content, That a song she sung in the lines below Seemed delightfully apropos:—
"Why do I sing—Tra-la-la-la-la! Glad as a King?—Tra-la-la-la-la! Well, since you ask,— I have such a pleasant task, I can not help but sing!
"Why do I smile—Tra-la-la-la-la! Working the while?—Tra-la-la-la-la! Work like this is play,— So I'm playing all the day— I can not help but smile!
"So, If you please—Tra-la-la-la-la! Live at your ease!—Tra-la-la-la-la! You've only got to turn, And, you see, its bound to churn— I can not help but please!"
The farmer pondered and scratched his head, Reading over each mystic word.— "Some o' the Dreamer's work!" he said— "Ah, here's more—and name and date In his hand-write'!"—And the good man read,— "'Patent applied for, July third, Eighteen hundred and forty-eight'!" The fragment fell from his nerveless grasp— His awed lips thrilled with the joyous gasp: "I see the p'int to the whole concern,— He's studied out a patent churn!"
FLORETTY'S MUSICAL CONTRIBUTION
All seemed delighted, though the elders more, Of course, than were the children.—Thus, before Much interchange of mirthful compliment, The story-teller said his stories "went" (Like a bad candle) best when they went out,— And that some sprightly music, dashed about, Would wholly quench his "glimmer," and inspire Far brighter lights.
And, answering this desire, The flutist opened, in a rapturous strain Of rippling notes—a perfect April-rain Of melody that drenched the senses through;— Then—gentler—gentler—as the dusk sheds dew, It fell, by velvety, staccatoed halts, Swooning away in old "Von Weber's Waltz." Then the young ladies sang "Isle of the Sea"— In ebb and flow and wave so billowy,— Only with quavering breath and folded eyes The listeners heard, buoyed on the fall and rise Of its insistent and exceeding stress Of sweetness and ecstatic tenderness ... With lifted finger yet, Remembrance—List!— "Beautiful isle of the sea!" wells in a mist Of tremulous ...
... After much whispering Among the children, Alex came to bring Some kind of letter—as it seemed to be— To Cousin Rufus. This he carelessly Unfolded—reading to himself alone,— But, since its contents became, later, known, And no one "plagued so awful bad," the same May here be given—of course without full name, Fac-simile, or written kink or curl Or clue. It read:—
"Wild Roved an indian Girl Brite al Floretty" deer freind I now take *this* These means to send that Song to you & make my Promus good to you in the Regards Of doing What i Promust afterwards, the notes & Words is both here Printed SOS you *kin* can git uncle Mart to read you *them* those & cousin Rufus you can git to Play the notes fur you on eny Plezunt day His Legul Work aint *Pressin* Pressing. Ever thine As shore as the Vine doth the Stump intwine thou art my Lump of Sackkerrine Rinaldo Rinaldine the Pirut in Captivity.
... There dropped Another square scrap.—But the hand was stopped That reached for it—Floretty suddenly Had set a firm foot on her property— Thinking it was the letter, not the song,— But blushing to discover she was wrong, When, with all gravity of face and air, Her precious letter handed to her there By Cousin Rufus left her even more In apprehension than she was before. But, testing his unwavering, kindly eye, She seemed to put her last suspicion by, And, in exchange, handed the song to him.—
A page torn from a song-book: Small and dim Both notes and words were—but as plain as day They seemed to him, as he began to play— And plain to all the singers,—as he ran An airy, warbling prelude, then began Singing and swinging in so blithe a strain, That every voice rang in the old refrain: From the beginning of the song, clean through, Floretty's features were a study to The flutist who "read notes" so readily, Yet read so little of the mystery Of that face of the girl's.—Indeed one thing Bewildered him quite into worrying, And that was, noticing, throughout it all, The Hired Man shrinking closer to the wall, She ever backing toward him through the throng Of barricading children—till the song Was ended, and at last he saw her near Enough to reach and take him by the ear And pinch it just a pang's worth of her ire And leave it burning like a coal of fire. He noticed, too, in subtle pantomime She seemed to dust him off, from time to time; And when somebody, later, asked if she Had never heard the song before—"What! me?" She said—then blushed again and smiled,— "I've knowed that song sence Adam was a child!— It's jes a joke o' this-here man's.—He's learned To read and write a little, and its turned His fool-head some—That's all!"
And then some one Of the loud-wrangling boys said—"Course they's none No more, these days!—They's Fairies ust to be, But they're all dead, a hunderd years!" said he.
"Well, there's where you're mustakened!"—in reply They heard Bud's voice, pitched sharp and thin and high.—
"An' how you goin' to prove it!"
"Well, I kin!" Said Bud, with emphasis,—"They's one lives in Our garden—and I see 'im wunst, wiv my Own eyes—one time I did."
"Oh, what a lie!" —"'Sh!'"
"Well, nen," said the skeptic—seeing there The older folks attracted—"Tell us where You saw him, an' all 'bout him!'
"Yes, my son.— If you tell 'stories,' you may tell us one," The smiling father said, while Uncle Mart, Behind him, winked at Bud, and pulled apart His nose and chin with comical grimace— Then sighed aloud, with sanctimonious face,— "'How good and comely it is to see Children and parents in friendship agree!'— You fire away, Bud, on your Fairy-tale— Your Uncle's here to back you!"
Somewhat pale, And breathless as to speech, the little man Gathered himself. And thus his story ran.
Some peoples thinks they ain't no Fairies now No more yet!—But they is, I bet! 'Cause ef They wuzn't Fairies, nen I' like to know Who'd w'ite 'bout Fairies in the books, an' tell What Fairies does, an' how their picture looks, An' all an' ever'thing! W'y, ef they don't Be Fairies anymore, nen little boys 'U'd ist sleep when they go to sleep an' wont Have ist no dweams at all,—'Cause Fairies—good Fairies—they're a-purpose to make dweams! But they is Fairies—an' I know they is! 'Cause one time wunst, when its all Summertime, An' don't haf to be no fires in the stove Er fireplace to keep warm wiv—ner don't haf To wear old scwatchy flannen shirts at all, An' aint no fweeze—ner cold—ner snow!—An'—an' Old skweeky twees got all the gween leaves on An' ist keeps noddin', noddin' all the time, Like they 'uz lazy an' a-twyin' to go To sleep an' couldn't, 'cause the wind won't quit A-blowin' in 'em, an' the birds won't stop A-singin' so's they kin.—But twees don't sleep, I guess! But little boys sleeps—an' dweams, too.— An' that's a sign they's Fairies.
So, one time, When I ben playin' "Store" wunst over in The shed of their old stable, an' Ed Howard He maked me quit a-bein' pardners, 'cause I dwinked the 'tend-like sody-water up An' et the shore-nuff cwackers.—W'y, nen I Clumbed over in our garden where the gwapes Wuz purt'-nigh ripe: An' I wuz ist a-layin' There on th' old cwooked seat 'at Pa maked in Our arber,—an' so I 'uz layin' there A-whittlin' beets wiv my new dog-knife, an' A-lookin' wite up through the twimbly leaves— An' wuzn't 'sleep at all!—An'-sir!—first thing You know, a little Fairy hopped out there! A leetle-teenty Fairy!—hope-may-die! An' he look' down at me, he did—An' he Ain't bigger'n a yellerbird!—an' he Say "Howdy-do!" he did—an' I could hear Him—ist as plain!
Nen I say "Howdy-do!" An' he say "I'm all hunkey, Nibsey; how Is your folks comin' on?"
An' nen I say "My name ain't 'Nibsey,' neever—my name's Bud. An' what's your name?" I says to him.
An'he Ist laugh an' say "'Bud's' awful funny name!" An' he ist laid back on a big bunch o' gwapes An' laugh' an' laugh', he did—like somebody 'Uz tick-el-un his feet!
An' nen I say— "What's your name," nen I say, "afore you bust Yo'-se'f a-laughin' 'bout my name?" I says. An' nen he dwy up laughin'—kindo' mad— An' say "W'y, my name's Squidjicum," he says. An' nen I laugh an' say—"Gee! what a name!" An' when I make fun of his name, like that, He ist git awful mad an' spunky, an' 'Fore you know, he ist gwabbed holt of a vine— A big long vine 'at's danglin' up there, an' He ist helt on wite tight to that, an' down He swung quick past my face, he did, an' ist Kicked at me hard's he could!
But I'm too quick Fer Mr. Squidjicum! I ist weached out An' ketched him, in my hand—an' helt him, too, An' squeezed him, ist like little wobins when They can't fly yet an' git flopped out their nest. An' nen I turn him all wound over, an' Look at him clos't, you know—wite clos't,—'cause ef He is a Fairy, w'y, I want to see The wings he's got—But he's dwessed up so fine 'At I can't see no wings.—An' all the time He's twyin' to kick me yet: An' so I take F'esh holts an' squeeze agin—an' harder, too; An' I says, "Hold up, Mr. Squidjicum!— You're kickin' the w'ong man!" I says; an' nen I ist squeeze' him, purt'-nigh my best, I did— An' I heerd somepin' bust!—An' nen he cwied An' says, "You better look out what you're doin'!— You' bust' my spiderweb-suspen'ners, an' You' got my woseleaf-coat all cwinkled up So's I can't go to old Miss Hoodjicum's Tea-party, 's'afternoon!"
An' nen I says— "Who's 'old Miss Hoodjicum'?" I says
An'he Says "Ef you lemme loose I'll tell you."
So I helt the little skeezics 'way fur out In one hand—so's he can't jump down t' th' ground Wivout a-gittin' all stove up: an' nen I says, "You're loose now.—Go ahead an' tell 'Bout the 'tea-party' where you're goin' at So awful fast!" I says.
An' nen he say,— "No use to tell you 'bout it, 'cause you won't Believe it, 'less you go there your own se'f An' see it wiv your own two eyes!" he says. An' he says: "Ef you lemme shore-nuff loose, An' p'omise 'at you'll keep wite still, an' won't Tetch nothin' 'at you see—an' never tell Nobody in the world—an' lemme loose— W'y, nen I'll take you there!"
But I says, "Yes An' ef I let you loose, you'll run!" I says. An' he says "No, I won't!—I hope may die!" Nen I says, "Cwoss your heart you won't!"
An'he Ist cwoss his heart; an' nen I weach an' set The little feller up on a long vine— An' he 'uz so tickled to git loose agin, He gwab' the vine wiv boff his little hands An' ist take an' turn in, he did, an' skin 'Bout forty-'leven cats!
Nen when he git Through whirlin' wound the vine, an' set on top Of it agin, w'y nen his "woseleaf-coat" He bwag so much about, it's ist all tored Up, an' ist hangin' strips an' rags—so he Look like his Pa's a dwunkard. An' so nen When he see what he's done—a-actin' up So smart,—he's awful mad, I guess; an' ist Pout out his lips an' twis' his little face Ist ugly as he kin, an' set an' tear His whole coat off—an' sleeves an' all.—An' nen He wad it all togevver an' ist throw It at me ist as hard as he kin dwive!
An' when I weach to ketch him, an' 'uz goin' To give him 'nuvver squeezin', he ist flewed Clean up on top the arber!—'Cause, you know, They wuz wings on him—when he tored his coat Clean off—they wuz wings under there. But they Wuz purty wobbly-like an' wouldn't work Hardly at all—'Cause purty soon, when I Throwed clods at him, an' sticks, an' got him shooed Down off o' there, he come a-floppin' down An' lit k-bang! on our old chicken-coop, An' ist laid there a-whimper'n' like a child! An' I tiptoed up wite clos't, an' I says "What's The matter wiv ye, Squidjicum?"
An'he Says: "Dog-gone! when my wings gits stwaight agin, Where you all cwumpled 'em," he says, "I bet I'll ist fly clean away an' won't take you To old Miss Hoodjicum's at all!" he says. An' nen I ist weach out wite quick, I did, An' gwab the sassy little snipe agin— Nen tooked my topstwing an' tie down his wings So's he can't fly, 'less'n I want him to! An' nen I says: "Now, Mr. Squidjicum, You better ist light out," I says, "to old Miss Hoodjicum's, an' show me how to git There, too," I says; "er ef you don't," I says, "I'll climb up wiv you on our buggy-shed An' push you off!" I says.
An nen he say All wight, he'll show me there; an' tell me nen To set him down wite easy on his feet, An' loosen up the stwing a little where It cut him under th' arms. An' nen he says, "Come on!" he says; an' went a-limpin' 'long The garden-path—an' limpin' 'long an' 'long Tel—purty soon he come on 'long to where's A grea'-big cabbage-leaf. An' he stoop down An' say "Come on inunder here wiv me!" So I stoop down an' crawl inunder there, Like he say.
An' inunder there's a grea' Big clod, they is—a awful grea' big clod! An' nen he says, "Roll this-here clod away!" An' so I roll' the clod away. An' nen It's all wet, where the dew'z inunder where The old clod wuz,—an' nen the Fairy he Git on the wet-place: Nen he say to me "Git on the wet-place, too!" An' nen he say, "Now hold yer breff an' shet yer eyes!" he says, "Tel I say Squinchy-winchy!" Nen he say— Somepin in Dutch, I guess.—An' nen I felt Like we 'uz sinkin' down—an' sinkin' down!— Tel purty soon the little Fairy weach An' pinch my nose an' yell at me an' say, "Squinchy-winchy! Look wherever you please!" Nen when I looked—Oh! they 'uz purtyest place Down there you ever saw in all the World!— They 'uz ist flowers an' woses—yes, an' twees Wiv blossoms on an' big ripe apples boff! An' butterflies, they wuz—an' hummin'-birds— An' yellowbirds an' bluebirds—yes, an' red!— An' ever'wheres an' all awound 'uz vines Wiv ripe p'serve-pears on 'em!—Yes, an' all An' ever'thing 'at's ever gwowin' in A garden—er canned up—all ripe at wunst!— It wuz ist like a garden—only it 'Uz little tit o' garden—'bout big wound As ist our twun'el-bed is.—An' all wound An' wound the little garden's a gold fence— An' little gold gate, too—an' ash-hopper 'At's all gold, too—an' ist full o' gold ashes! An' wite in th' middle o' the garden wuz A little gold house, 'at's ist 'bout as big As ist a bird-cage is: An' in the house They 'uz whole-lots more Fairies there—'cause I Picked up the little house, an 'peeked in at The winders, an' I see 'em all in there Ist buggin' wound! An' Mr. Squidjicum He twy to make me quit, but I gwab him, An' poke him down the chimbly, too, I did!— An' y'ort to see him hop out 'mongst 'em there! Ist like he 'uz the boss an' ist got back!— "Hain't ye got on them-air dew-dumplin's yet?" He says.
An' they says no.
An' nen he says "Better git at 'em nen!" he says, "wite quick— 'Cause old Miss Hoodjicum's a-comin'!"
Nen They all set wound a little gold tub—an' All 'menced a-peelin' dewdwops, ist like they 'Uz peaches.—An', it looked so funny, I Ist laugh' out loud, an' dwopped the little house,— An' 't busted like a soap-bubble!—An't skeered Me so, I—I—I—I,—it skeered me so, I—ist waked up.—No! I ain't ben asleep An' dream it all, like you think,—but it's shore Fer-certain fact an' cwoss my heart it is!
A DELICIOUS INTERRUPTION
All were quite gracious in their plaudits of Bud's Fairy; but another stir above That murmur was occasioned by a sweet Young lady-caller, from a neighboring street, Who rose reluctantly to say good-night To all the pleasant friends and the delight Experienced,—as she had promised sure To be back home by nine. Then paused, demure, And wondered was it very dark.—Oh, no!— She had come by herself and she could go Without an escort. Ah, you sweet girls all! What young gallant but comes at such a call, Your most abject of slaves! Why, there were three Young men, and several men of family, Contesting for the honor—which at last Was given to Cousin Rufus; and he cast A kingly look behind him, as the pair Vanished with laughter in the darkness there.
As order was restored, with everything Suggestive, in its way, of "romancing," Some one observed that now would be the chance For Noey to relate a circumstance That he—the very specious rumor went— Had been eye-witness of, by accident. Noey turned pippin-crimson; then turned pale As death; then turned to flee, without avail.— "There! head him off! Now! hold him in his chair!— Tell us the Serenade-tale, now, Noey.—There!"
"They ain't much 'tale' about it!" Noey said.— "K'tawby grapes wuz gittin' good-n-red I rickollect; and Tubb Kingry and me 'Ud kindo' browse round town, daytime, to see What neighbers 'peared to have the most to spare 'At wuz git-at-able and no dog there When we come round to git 'em, say 'bout ten O'clock at night when mostly old folks then Wuz snorin' at each other like they yit Helt some old grudge 'at never slep' a bit. Well, at the Pars'nige—ef ye'll call to mind,— They's 'bout the biggest grape-arber you'll find 'Most anywheres.—And mostly there, we knowed They wuz k'tawbies thick as ever growed— And more'n they'd p'serve.—Besides I've heerd Ma say k'tawby-grape-p'serves jes 'peared A waste o' sugar, anyhow!—And so My conscience stayed outside and lem me go With Tubb, one night, the back-way, clean up through That long black arber to the end next to The house, where the k'tawbies, don't you know, Wuz thickest. And t'uz lucky we went slow,— Fer jest as we wuz cropin' tords the gray- End, like, of the old arber—heerd Tubb say In a skeered whisper, 'Hold up! They's some one Jes slippin' in here!—and looks like a gun He's carryin'!' I golly! we both spread Out flat aginst the ground!
"'What's that?' Tubb said.— And jest then—'plink! plunk! plink!' we heerd something Under the back-porch-winder.—Then, i jing! Of course we rickollected 'bout the young School-mam 'at wuz a-boardin' there, and sung, And played on the melodium in the choir.— And she 'uz 'bout as purty to admire As any girl in town!—the fac's is, she Jest wuz, them times, to a dead certainty, The belle o' this-here bailywick!—But—Well,— I'd best git back to what I'm tryin' to tell:— It wuz some feller come to serenade Miss Wetherell: And there he plunked and played His old guitar, and sung, and kep' his eye Set on her winder, blacker'n the sky!— And black it stayed.—But mayby she wuz 'way From home, er wore out—bein' Saturday!
"It seemed a good-'eal longer, but I know He sung and plunked there half a' hour er so Afore, it 'peared like, he could ever git His own free qualified consents to quit And go off 'bout his business. When he went I bet you could a-bought him fer a cent!
"And now, behold ye all!—as Tubb and me Wuz 'bout to raise up,—right in front we see A feller slippin' out the arber, square Smack under that-air little winder where The other feller had been standin'.—And The thing he wuz a-carryin' in his hand Wuzn't no gun at all!—It wuz a flute,— And whoop-ee! how it did git up and toot And chirp and warble, tel a mockin'-bird 'Ud dast to never let hisse'f be heerd Ferever, after sich miracalous, high Jim-cracks and grand skyrootics played there by Yer Cousin Rufus!—Yes-sir; it wuz him!— And what's more,—all a-suddent that-air dim Dark winder o' Miss Wetherell's wuz lit Up like a' oyshture-sign, and under it We see him sort o' wet his lips and smile Down 'long his row o' dancin' fingers, while He kindo' stiffened up and kinked his breath And everlastin'ly jest blowed the peth Out o' that-air old one-keyed flute o' his. And, bless their hearts, that's all the 'tale' they is!"
And even as Noey closed, all radiantly The unconscious hero of the history, Returning, met a perfect driving storm Of welcome—a reception strangely warm And unaccountable, to him, although Most gratifying,—and he told them so. "I only urge," he said, "my right to be Enlightened." And a voice said: "Certainly:— During your absence we agreed that you Should tell us all a story, old or new, Just in the immediate happy frame of mind We knew you would return in."