CHILD AND COUNTRY
BY WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT
LOT & COMPANY RED FLEECE MIDSTREAM DOWN AMONG MEN FATHERLAND
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY NEW YORK
Child and Country
A Book of the Younger Generation
WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT
AUTHOR OF "MIDSTREAM," "LOT & COMPANY," "DOWN AMONG MEN," "ROUTLEDGE RIDES ALONE," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORK GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
Copyright, 1916, BY GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
WHO COME AFTER THE WRECKERS
TO THE BUILDERS
OF THE RISING GENERATION
... To-day the first glimpse of this manuscript as a whole. It was all detached pieces before, done over a period of many months, with many intervening tasks, the main idea slightly drifting from time to time.... The purpose on setting out, was to relate the adventure of home-making in the country, with its incidents of masonry, child and rose culture, and shore-conservation. It was not to tell others how to build a house or plant a garden, or how to conduct one's life on a shore-acre or two. Not at this late day. I was impelled rather to relate how we found plenty with a little; how we entered upon a new dimension of health and length of days; and from the safe distance of the desk, I wanted to laugh over a city man's adventures with drains and east winds, country people and the meshes of possession.
In a way, our second coming to the country was like the landing of the Swiss Family Robinson upon that little world of theirs in the midst of the sea. Town life had become a subtle persecution. We hadn't been wrecked exactly, but there had been times in which we were torn and weary, understanding only vaguely that it was the manner of our days in the midst of the crowd that was dulling the edge of health and taking the bloom from life. I had long been troubled about the little children in school—the winter sicknesses, the amount of vitality required to resist contagions, mental and physical—the whole tendency of the school toward making an efficient and a uniform product, rather than to develop the intrinsic and inimitable gift of each child.
We entered half-humorously upon the education of children at home, but out of this activity emerged the main theme of the days and the work at hand. The building of a house proved a natural setting for that; gardens and woods and shore rambles are a part; the new poetry and all the fine things of the time belong most intensely to that. Others of the coming generation gathered about the work here; and many more rare young beings who belong, but have not yet come, send us letters from the fronts of their struggle.
It has all been very deep and dramatic to me, a study of certain builders of to-morrow taking their place higher and higher day by day in the thought and action of our life. They have given me more than I could possibly give them. They have monopolised the manuscript. Chapter after chapter are before me—revelations they have brought—and over all, if I can express it, is a dream of the education of the future. So the children and the twenty-year-olds are on every page almost, even in the title.
Meanwhile the world-madness descended, and all Europe became a spectacle. There is no inclination to discuss that, although there have been days of quiet here by the fire in which it seemed that we could see the crumbling of the rock of ages and the glimmering of the New Age above the red chaos of the East. And standing a little apart, we perceived convincing signs of the long-promised ignition on the part of America—signs as yet without splendour, to be sure. These things have to do with the very breath we draw; they relate themselves to our children and to every conception of home—not the war itself, but the forming of the new social order, the message thrilling for utterance in the breasts of the rising generation. For they are the builders who are to follow the wreckers of war.
Making a place to live on the lake shore, the development of bluff and land, the building of study and stable and finally the stone house (a pool of water in the centre, a roof open to the sunlight, the outer walls broken with chimneys for the inner fires), these are but exterior cultivations, the establishment of a visible order that is but a symbol of the intenser activity of the natures within.
Quiet, a clean heart, a fragrant fire, a press for garments, a bin of food, a friendly neighbour, a stretch of distance from the casements—these are sane desirable matters to gather together; but the fundamental of it all is, that they correspond to a picture of the builder's ideal. There is a bleakness about buying one's house built; in fact, a man cannot really possess anything unless he has an organised receptivity—a conception of its utilities that has come from long need. A man might buy the most perfect violin, but it is nothing more than a curio to him unless he can bring out its wisdom. It is the same in mating with a woman or fathering a child.
There is a good reason why one man keeps pigs and another bees, why one man plants petunias and another roses, why the many can get along with maples when elms and beeches are to be had, why one man will exchange a roomful of man-fired porcelain for one bowl of sunlit alabaster. No chance anywhere. We call unto ourselves that which corresponds to our own key and tempo; and so long as we live, there is a continual re-adjustment without, the more unerringly to meet the order within.
The stone house is finished, roses have bloomed, but the story of the cultivation of the human spirits is really just beginning—a work so joyous and productive that I would take any pains to set forth with clearness the effort to develop each intrinsic gift, to establish a deep breathing of each mind—a fulness of expression on the one hand, and a selfless receptivity on the other. We can only breathe deeply when we are at peace. This is true mentally as well as physically, and soulfully, so far as one can see. The human fabric is at peace only when its faculties are held in rhythm by the task designed for them. Expression of to-day makes the mind ready for the inspiration of to-morrow.
It may be well finally to make it clear that there is no personal ambition here to become identified with education in the accepted sense. Those who come bring nothing in their hands, and answer no call save that which they are sensitive enough to hear without words. Hearing that, they belong, indeed. Authorship is the work of Stonestudy, and shall always be; but first and last is the conviction that literature and art are but incident to life; that we are here to become masters of life—artists, if possible, but in any case, men.
... To-day the glimpse of it all—that this is to be a book of the younger generation.... I remember in the zeal of a novice, how earnestly I planned to relate the joys of rose-culture, when some yellow teas came into their lovely being in answer to the long preparation. It seemed to me that a man could do little better for his quiet joy than to raise roses; that nothing was so perfectly designed to keep romance perennial in his soul. Then the truth appeared—greater things that were going on here—the cultivation of young and living minds, minds still fluid, eager to give their faith and take the story of life; minds that are changed in an instant and lifted for all time, if the story is well told.... So in the glimpse of this book as a whole, as it comes to-day (an East wind rising and the gulls blown inland) I find that a man may build a more substantial thing than a stone house, may realise an intenser cultivation than even tea-roses require; and of this I want to tell simply and with something of order from the beginning.
WILL LEVINGTON COMFORT.
STONESTUDY, March, 1916.
BEES AND BLOOMS 17
BLUFF AND SHORE 28
WILD GEESE 55
THE LITTLE GIRL 78
THE ABBOT 90
THE VALLEY-ROAD GIRL 102
THE LITTLE GIRL'S WORK 123
TEARING-DOWN SENTIMENT 134
NATURAL CRUELTY 151
CHILDREN CHANGE 163
A MAN'S OWN 171
THE PLAN IS ONE 186
THE IRISH CHAPTER 196
THE BLEAKEST HOUR 202
THE NEW SOCIAL ORDER 217
COMMON CLAY BRICK 222
THE HIGHEST OF THE ARTS 230
MORE ABOUT ORDER 259
THE FRESH EYE 270
THE CHOICE OF THE MANY 279
THE ROSE CHAPTER 284
THE ABBOT DEPARTS 301
THE DAKOTAN 313
THE DAKOTAN (Continued) 319
THE HILL ROCKS 330
ASSEMBLY OF PARTS 339
CHILD AND COUNTRY
CHILD AND COUNTRY
BEES AND BLOOMS
In another place, I have touched upon our first adventure in the country. It was before the children came. We went to live in a good district, but there was no peace there. I felt forgotten. I had not the stuff to stand that. My life was shallow and artificial enough then to require the vibration of the town; and at the end of a few weeks it was feverishly missed. The soil gave me nothing. I look back upon that fact now with something like amazement, but I was young. Lights and shining surfaces were dear; all waste and stimulation a part of necessity, and that which the many rushed after seemed the things which a man should have. Though the air was dripping with fragrance and the early summer ineffable with fruit-blossoms, the sense of self poisoned the paradise. I disdained even to make a place of order of that little plot. There was no inner order in my heart—on the contrary, chaos in and out. I had not been manhandled enough to return with love and gratefulness to the old Mother. Some of us must go the full route of the Prodigal, even to the swine and the husks, before we can accept the healing of Nature.
So deep was the imprint of this experience that I said for years: "The country is good, but it is not for me...." I loved to read about the country, enjoyed hearing men talk about their little places, but always felt a temperamental exile from their dahlias and gladioli and wistaria. I knew what would happen to me if I went again to the country to live, for I judged by the former adventure. Work would stop; all mental activity would sink into a bovine rumination.
Yet during all these years, the illusions were falling away. It is true that there is never an end to illusions, but they become more and more subtle to meet our equipment. I had long since lost my love for the roads of the many—the crowded roads that run so straight to pain. A sentence had stood up again and again before me, that the voice of the devil is the voice of the crowd.
Though I did not yet turn back to the land, I had come to see prolonged city-life as one of the ranking menaces of the human spirit, though at our present stage of evolution it appears a necessary school for a time. Two paragraphs from an earlier paper on the subject suggest one of the larger issues:
"The higher the moral and intellectual status of a people, the more essential become space, leisure and soul-expression for bringing children into the world. When evolving persons have reached individuality, and the elements of greatness are formative within them, they pay the price for reversion to worldliness in the extinction of name. The race that produced Emerson and Thoreau and Whitman, that founded our culture and gave us a name in English, is following the red Indian westward off the face of the earth.
"Trade makes the city; congestion makes for commonness and the death of the individual. Only the younger and physical races, or the remnant of that race of instinctive tradesmen which has failed as a spiritual experiment, can exist in the midst of the tendencies and conditions of metropolitan America. One of the most enthralling mysteries of life is that children will not come to highly evolved men and women who have turned back upon their spiritual obligations and clouded the vision which was their birthright."
It is very clear to me that the Anglo-Saxons at least, after a generation or two of town-life, must give up trade and emerge from the City for the recreating part of their year, or else suffer in deeper ways than death. The City will do for those younger-souled peoples that have not had their taste of its cruel order and complicating pressures; for the Mediterranean peoples already touched with decadence; for the strong yet simple peasant vitalities of Northern Europe, but the flower of the American entity has already remained too long in the ruck of life.
There came a Spring at last in which there was but one elm-tree. The rest was flat-buildings and asphalt and motor-puddled air. I was working long in those April days, while the great elm-tree broke into life at the window. There is a green all its own to the young elm-leaves, and that green was all our Spring. Voices of the street came up through it, and whispers of the wind. I remember one smoky moon, and there was a certain dawn in which I loved, more strangely than ever, the cut-leaved profile against the grey-red East. The spirit of it seemed to come to me, and all that the elm-tree meant—hill-cabins and country dusks, bees and blooms and stars, and the plain holy life of kindliness and aspiration. In this dawn I found myself dreaming, thirsting, wasting for all that the elm-tree knew—as if I were exiled from the very flesh that could bring the good low earth to my senses again.
Could it be that something was changed within—that we were ready at last? One of those Spring days, in the midst of a forenoon's work, I stopped short with the will to go to the country to look for a place to rent. I left the garret, found Penelope, who was ready in fifteen minutes. We crossed the river first of all into Canada, because the American side within fifty miles in every direction had been sorted over again and again, by those who had followed just such an impulse. In the smaller city opposite, we learned that there were two suburban cars—one that would take us to the Lake St. Claire shore, and another that crossed the country to Lake Erie, travelling along her northern indentations for nearly ten miles.
"We'll take the car that leaves here first," said I.
It was the Erie car. In the smoking compartment I fell into conversation with a countryman who told me all that could possibly be synthesised by one mind regarding the locality we were passing through. He suggested that we try our fortune in the little town where the car first meets the Lake. This we did and looked up and down that Main Street. It was quiet and quaint, but something pressed home to us that was not all joy—the tightness of old scar-tissue in the chest.... The countryman came running to us from the still standing car, though this was not his destination, and pointing to a little grey man in the street, said:
"He can tell you more than I can."
I regarded the new person with awe if he could do that.... In a way it was true. He was a leisurely-minded man, who knew what he was going to say before he spoke, had it correctly in mind. The product came forth edited. He called men by 'phone—names strange to me then that have become household names since—while we sat by smiling and silent in his little newspaper shop.... And those who came wanted to know if we drank, when they talked of renting their cottages; and if we were actors.
Not that we looked like actors, but it transpired that actor-folk had rented one of the cottages another year, and had sat up late and had not always clothed themselves continually full-length. Once, other actor people had motored down, and it was said that those on the back seats of the car had been rigid among beer-cases.
We were given the values and disadvantages of the East shore and also of the West shore, the town between.... Somehow we always turn to the East in our best moments and it was so this day.... We were directed to the house of a man who owned two little cottages just a mile from town. He was not well that day, but his boy went with us to show the cottages. That boy you shall be glad to know.
We walked together down the long lane, and I did not seem able to reach our guide's heart, so we were silent, but Penelope came between us. He would have been strange, indeed, had she failed.... I look back now from where I sit—to that long lane. I love it very much for it led to the very edge of a willowed bluff—to the end of the land. Erie brimmed before us. It led to a new life, too.
I had always disliked Erie—as one who lived in the Lake Country and chose his own. I approved mildly of St. Claire; Michigan awed me from a little boy's summer; Huron was familiar from another summer, but Erie heretofore had meant only something to be crossed—something shallow and petulant. Here she lay in the sunlight, with bars of orange light darkening to ocean blue, and one far sparkling line in the West. Then I knew that I had wronged her. She seemed not to mind, but leisurely to wait. We faced the South from the bluffs, and I thought of the stars from this vantage.... If a man built his house here, he could explain where he lived by the nearest map in a Japanese house, or in a Russian peasant's house, for Erie to them is as clear a name as Baikal or the Inland Sea is to us. I had heard Japanese children repeat the names of the Great Lakes. When you come to a shore like this you are at the end of the landscape. You must pause. Somehow I think—we are pausing still. One must pause to project a dream.
... For weeks there, in a little rented place, we were so happy that we hardly ventured to speak of it. We had expected so little, and had brought such weariness. Day after day unfolded in the very fulness of life, and the small flower-beds there on the stranger's land held the cosmic answer. All that summer Jupiter marked time across the southern heavens; and I shall never forget the sense of conquest in hiving the first swarm of bees. They had to be carried on a branch down a deep gulley, and several hundred feet beyond. Two-thirds of the huge cluster were in the air about me, before the super was lifted. Yet there was not a sting from the tens of thousands. We had the true thirst that year. Little things were enough; we were innocent, even of possession, and brought back to the good land all the sensitizing that the City had given. There were days in which we were so happy—that another summer of such life would have seemed too much to ask.
I had lived three weeks, when I remembered that formerly I read newspapers, and opened the nearest. The mystery and foreignness of it was as complete as the red fire of Antares that gleamed so balefully every night across the Lake—a hell of trials and jealousy and suicide, obscenity and passion. It all came up from the sheet to my nostrils like the smell of blood.
* * * * *
... There are men and women in town who are dying for the country; literally this is so, and such numbers of them that any one who lives apart from the crowds and calls forth guests from time to time, can find these sufferers among his little circle of friends. They come here for week-ends and freshen up like newly watered plants—turning back with set faces early Monday morning. I think of a flat of celery plants that have grown to the end of the nourishment of their crowded space, and begin to yellow and wither, sick of each other.... One does not say what one thinks. It is not a simple thing for those whose life and work is altogether identified with the crowded places, to uproot for roomy planting in the country. But the fact remains, many are dying to be free.
The City, intolerable as it is in itself—in its very nature against the growth of the body and soul of man after a certain time—is nevertheless the chief of those urging forces which shall bring us to simplicity and naturalness at the last. Manhood is built quite as much by learning to avoid evil as by cultivating the aspiration for the good.
Just as certainly as there are thousands suffering for the freedom of spaces, far advanced in a losing fight of vitality against the cruel tension of city life, there are whole races of men who have yet to meet and pass through this terrifying complication of the crowds, which brings a refining gained in no other way. All growth is a passage through hollows and over hills, though the journey regarded as a whole is an ascent.
A great leader of men who has never met the crowds face to face is inconceivable. He must have fought for life in the depths and pandemoniums, to achieve that excellence of equipment which makes men turn to him for his word and his strength. We are so made that none of us can remain sensitive to prolonged beauty; neither can we endure continuously the stifling hollows between the hills. Be very sure the year-round countryman does not see what you see coming tired and half-broken from the town; and those who are caught and maimed by the City cannot conceive their plight, as do you, returning to them again from the country replenished and refreshed.
The great names of trade have been country-bred boys, but it is equally true that the most successful farmers of to-day are men who have returned to Nature from the town, some of them having been driven to the last ditch physically and commanded to return or die. It is in the turnings of life that we bring a fresh eye to circumstances and events.
Probably in a nation of bad workmen, no work is so stupidly done as the farming. Great areas of land have merely been scratched. There are men within an hour's ride from here who plant corn in the same fields every year, and check it throughout in severing the lateral roots by deep cultivation. They and their fathers have planted corn, and yet they have not the remotest idea of what takes place in their fields during the long summer from the seedling to the full ear; and very rarely in the heart of the countryman is there room for rapture. Though they have the breadth of the horizon line and all the skies to breathe in, few men look up more seldom.
 Midstream, 1914, George H. Doran Co., New York.
BLUFF AND SHORE
There is no playground like a sandy shore—and this was sheltered from the north by a high clay bluff that tempered all voices from below and made a sounding board for the winds. The beach, however, was not as broad then as now. To the east for a mile is a shallow sickle of shore with breakers on the point. In itself this indentation is but a squab of the main Pigeon Bay, which stretches around for twenty miles and is formed of Pelee Point, the most southern extension of Canada. The nearer and lesser point is like a bit of the Mediterranean. It takes the greys of the rain-days with a beauty and power of its own, and the mornings flash upon it. I call it the Other Shore, a structure of idealism forming upon it from much contemplation at the desk. The young people turn to it often from the classes.
The height of land from which the Other Shore is best visible had merely been seen so far from the swimming place in front of the rented cottages. It was while in the water that I determined to explore. The first thing that impressed me when I reached the eminence was the silence. It was something to be dreamed of, when the Lake was also still. There was no road; a hay field came down to the very edge of the bluff, and the shore fifty feet below was narrow and rocky. Very few people passed there. That most comfortable little town was lying against the rear horizon to the West. I used to come in the evenings and smoke as the sun went down. Sometimes the beauty of it was all I could bear—the voices of children in the distance and the Pelee light flashing every seven seconds far out in the Lake.
I first saw it in dry summer weather and did not know that a bumper crop of frogs had been harvested that Spring from the deep, grass-covered hollows formed by the removal of clay for a brick-business long ago. There was good forage on the mounds, which I did not appreciate at the time. The fact is these mounds were formed of pure dark loam, as fine a soil as anywhere in the Lake Country.
Those of the dim eyes say that once upon a time an orchard and brick-house stood on a bluff in front of the brick-yard, on a natural point, but that the Lake had nibbled and nibbled, finally digesting the property, fruit-trees, brick-house and all.
I could well believe it when the first storm came. An East wind for three days brought steady deluges of high water that wore down the shore-line almost visibly. A week later came a West wind that enfiladed, so that what remained of the little point was caught in the cross-play of the weathers. If some one did not intervene, the brick-yard site would follow the orchard—that was clear.
... Three or four times the owner came to see me. We had rejoiced in the rented property, rejoiced in owning nothing, yet having it all.... Thoreau in his daily westward migrations studied it all with the same critical delight, and found his abode where others did not care to follow. We look twice at the spot we choose to build our house. That second look is not so free and innocent.... Yet a man may build his house. Thoreau had no little brood coming up, and I have doubted many times, even in moments of austere admiration, if he wouldn't have lived longer, had there been a woman about to nourish him. She would have insisted upon a better roof, at least.... I told the neighbour-man I would buy the brick-yard, if he didn't stop pestering me about it. He smiled and came once too often.
The day before, standing upon that height of land (not too near the edge, for it looked higher in those days) I had gazed across the Lake, at one with it all, a friendly voyager of the skies, comrade of the yarrow and the daisy. I remember the long grass of the hollows, the peculiar soft bloom of it, and what a place it was to lie and dream, until one became a part of the solution of sunshine and tinted immensity.
So I lost the universe for a bit of bluff on the Lake shore.
When the East wind came, I saw with proprietary alarm the point wearing away. That which coloured the Lake was fine rose-clay and it was mine, bought by the foot-front.... A man may build his house.
Every one who came along told me how to save the point. For weeks they came. Heavy drift-wood was placed in times of peace, so that the sand would be trapped in storm. No one failed me in advice, but the East wind made match-wood of all arrangements.... The high water would wash and weaken the base, and in the heaviness of the rains the bulk of earth above would fall—only to be carried out again by the waves. The base had to be saved if a natural slope was ever to be secured. Farther down the shore I noted one day that a row of boulders placed at right angles with the shore had formed a small point, and that a clump of willows behind had retained it. This was a bit of advice that had not come so authoritatively, but I followed the cue, and began rolling up rocks now like an ancient Peruvian. It was a little jetty, that looked like a lot of labour to a city man, and it remained as it was for several days.
One morning I came forth in lashing weather—and rubbed my eyes. The jetty was not in sight. It was covered with a foot of sand, and the clay was dry at the base. A day's work with a team after that in low water, snaking the big boulders into line with a chain—a sixty-foot jetty by sun-down, built on top of the baby spine I had poked together. No man ever spent a few dollars more profitably. Even these stones were covered in time, and there was over a yard-deep of sand buttressing the base of the clay and thinning out on the slope of shore to the end of the stones. Later, when building, I took four hundred yards of sand from the east side of the stone jetty, and it was all brought back by the next storm....
I read somewhere with deep and ardent sanction that a man isn't worth his spiritual salt if he lets a locality hold him, or possessions possess him; and yet, the spell was broken a little when we came to buy. Whenever you play with the meshes of possession, a devil is near at hand to weave you in. It is true that we took only enough Lake-frontage for quiet, and enough depth for a permanent fruit-garden—all for the price of a fifty-foot lot in the City; but these things call upon one for a certain property-mindedness and desiring, in the usage of which the human mind is common and far from admirable. There were days in the thrall of stone-work and grading and drainage, in which I forgot the sun-path and the cloud-shadows; nights in which I saw fireplaces and sleeping-porches (still innocent of matter to make the dreams come true), instead of the immortal signatures of the heavens.
But we had learned our City lessons rather well, and these disturbers did not continue to defile. A man may build his house, if he can also forget it. A few good things—perennials, by all means an elm-tree, stone-work and an oaken door; the things that need not replenishing in materials, that grow old with you, or reach their prime after you have passed—these are enough. For a home that does not promote your naturalness, is a place of vexation to you and to your children.
Yet it is through this breaking of the husks of illusion—through the very artificialities that we come to love the sane and holy things. The man of great lands, who draws his livelihood from the soil, can never know the healing nor the tender loveliness that came up to us that first summer. One must know the maiming of the cities to bring to the land a surface that nature floods with ecstasies. Carlyle thundered against artificial things all his wonderful life, exalted the splendours of simplicity which permit a man to forget himself—just missing the fact that a man must be artificial before he can be natural; that we learn by suffering and come up through the hell and complication of cities only to show us wherein our treasure lies.
The narrow non-sensitive consciousness of the peasant, with its squirrel-dream of filled barns, its cruelty and continual garnering—that is very far from the way. Tolstoi went against the eternal law to try that. He wanted simplicity so tragically that he permitted his desire to prevail, and turned back to the peasants for it. It is against the law to turn back. The peasants are simple because they have not met the intervening complications between their inland lake consciousness and the oceanic clarity ahead. Be very sure that none will escape the complication, for we rise to different dimensions of simplicity through such trials. War, Trade, the City, and all organised hells are our training-fields. The tragedy is to remain, to remain fixed in them—not to rush forth at length from our miserable self-consciousness and self-serving in the midst of them. Cosmic simplicity is ahead; the naturalness of the deeper health of man—that is ahead.
That summer is identified with the Shore. I worked at the desk through the long forenoons, and in a bathing-suit for the rest of the day. I expect to get to the Shore again when the last of the builders leave the bluff, when the bit of an orchard can run itself, and the big and little trees are at home. They are in sick-beds now from transplanting. From one to another I move almost every day. It is not that they are on my land—that insensate motive is pretty well done away with. But they have been uprooted and moved, and they are fighting to live. I sometimes think that they need some one to watch. If one goes away for a week—there is a change, sometimes for the worse. The sun strikes them on a different side; their laterals and tap-roots have been severed; they meet different conditions of soil than they were trained for. Much water helps, but they must breathe, and sometimes mulch keeps them too cold. Then they have their enemies like every other living thing—and low in health from moving, they cannot withstand these foes without help. The temporality of all things—even of the great imperturbable trees—is a thought of endless visitation in Nature. She seems to say morning and evening, "Do not forget that everything here must pass."
There is to be little woodland, a miniature forest, a hundred feet long and thirty feet wide only. Beech and ash and elm are started there—dogwoods and hawthorns and lilacs. Mulch from the woods is being brought, and violets. Twice I have tried to make young hickories live, but failed. I think the place where the roots are cut in transplanting should be sealed with wax. A man here said that you can transplant hickories if you get all the roots, but that they bleed to death even in winter, if their laterals are severed.... I want the birds to come to this little wood. Of course, it will be many years before it follows the plan, but there is a smile in the idea. The hawthorns came whole; the ash and beech are doing well. Some wild grape is started, but that must be watched for it is a beautiful murderer....
I want to get back to the Shore. Something was met there the first summer that I yearn for again—close to the sand, close to the voices of the water. The children often tell me what I feel. To them the stones have their gnomes, the water its sprites, and the sand a spirit of healing. There, too, the sunlight is so intense and vitalising as it plays upon the water and penetrates the margin.
The clay bluff is finding its grade, since it is spared the wash from beneath. That which breaks from erosion above straightens it out below, and in time it will find a permanent slope (something near thirty degrees, they say) that cannot be approached for beauty by any artificial process. I would not miss one of the natural shelves or fissures. The Japanese are interesting in their treatment of slopes. Something of the old temples and stonepaved paths—a trickle of water over the stones, deep shadows and trailing vines—something of all this will come to the clay bluff, if time is given to play on. But that is last, as the Shore was first.... I brought a willow trunk there this Spring and let the waves submerge it in sand. There are fifty small shoots springing up; and they will fight their way with each other, the leaders surviving. I planted one cedar on the Shore. It is good to plant a cedar. You are working for posterity.
The first Fall came, and nothing had been done above, though I had begun to have visions of a Spanish house there, having seen one that I could not forget somewhere in Luzon. A north-country house should have a summer heart, which is a fountain, and a winter heart which is a fireplace. I wanted both. The thought of it became clearer and clearer—a blend of patio and broad hearth—running water and red firelight—built of stone and decorated with ivy. A stone house with a roof of wired glass over a patio paved with brick; the area sunken slightly from the entrance; a balcony stretching around to connect the sleeping rooms, and rimmed with a broad shelf of oak, to hold the palms, urns, ferns and winter plants.
All this in a grove of elms and beeches, as I saw it—and as yet, there wasn't a tree on the place. First of all there needed to be a work-shop to finance the main-dream. That was built in the Fall, after the reverse was put on the devouring conditions of the Shore.
Somewhere in the past ages, I've had something to do with stone-work. This came to me first with a poignant thrill when I found myself in the presence of the Chinese Wall. Illusion or not, it seemed as if there were ancient scars across my back—as if I had helped in that building, and under the lash, too.
... I heard the mason here tell his tender that he had done a lot of stone-work, but had never been watched so closely as this. He penetrated to the truth of the matter presently. I wasn't watching because I was afraid of short time or flaws of construction—I was watching because it satisfied something within, that had to do with stone-work. I do not get accustomed to the marvel of cement. The overnight bond of that heavy powder, and its terrible thirst, is a continual miracle to me. There is a satisfaction about stone-work. It is at its weakest at the moment of setting. If you can find a bearing for one stone upon another without falling, you may know that every hour that passes for years, your wall is hardening. These things move slowly, too. All that has to do with stone-work is a slow process. In the very lifting, the masons learn that muscles must not tug or jerk, but lift slowly. The mortar that hardens slowly hardens best.
The study building happened between two long tasks of my own, so that there was time to be much outdoors. I doubt if there ever was a lovelier Fall than that—a full year before the thought of Europe became action. I watched the work—as the Japanese apprentices watch their craftsmen, so that the mind gets the picture of every process. The hand learns easily after this.
It is a grand old tool, the trowel, perhaps the most perfect of all symbols which suggest the labour of man upon the earth, his making of order out of chaos. The hammers interested me as well—six, eight, and eighteen pounds. The young man who used them was not much to look at, his body sagging a bit from labour, set in his opinions like the matter he dealt with, but terrible in his holding to what he knew, and steadily increasing that store. I have come to respect him, for he has done a great deal of stone-work here since those Fall days, when I seemed to be learning masonry all over again.
"Handle these hard-heads all day, and you're pretty well lifted out by night," he would remark, and add deprecatingly, "as the feller says."
There's a magic about the breaking. It isn't all strength. I think it is something the same that you do in billiards to get that smooth, long roll without smashing the balls. The mason says it is in the wrist. I asked him if it was the flash of the heat through the stone that broke it.
"No, it's just the way you hit it," he answered.
Two old masons worked with him for a time on the later work. They have built in these parts thousands of tons of brick and stone—fifty years of masonry; and their order is wonderful. I watched them taking their stone-hammers to the stable in the evening, and placing them just so. They have learned their mastery over the heavy things; they have hewed to the Line, and built to the Square. Their eyes are dim but the essence of their being (I cannot think it otherwise) is of more orderly integration. There is a nobility from stone-work which the masons put on with the years—the tenders have it not; neither have any of the indiscriminate labour men. One must have a craft to achieve this. The building is not so much. The houses and barns and stores which the elder masons pass everywhere as the labour of their hands in this country—they are but symbols of the building of character within. They see into the stones, see through their weathered coatings. To another all would look the same—the blacks and reds and whites, even the amalgans—all grey-brown and weathered outside—but the masons know what is within, the colour and grain and beauty.
"Try that one," I might say, looking for a certain fireplace corner.
"No, that's a black feller."
"Good colour, but he ain't got no grain—all gnurly—as the feller says."
Sometime this mason will be able to see like that into the hearts of men....
A stone study sixteen by twenty-three feet, built about a chimney—faced stone in and out, windows barred for the vines, six-inch beams to hold a low gable roof, and a damper in the chimney; the door of oak, wooden pegs to cover the screw-insets, a few rugs, a few books, the magic of firelight in the stone cave—a Mediterranean vision of curving shore to the East, and the single door overhanging the Lake—to the suspense of distance and Southern constellations.
I laugh at this—it sounds so pompous and costly—but it is the shop of a poor man. The whole Lake-frontage, as I have told you, cost no more than a city lot; and with sand on the beach, and stone on the shore and nearby fields, it all came to be as cheaply as a wooden cabin—indeed, it had to. That winter after we had left for the City, the elms were put out—a few six-inch trunks, brought with their own earth frozen to them—a specimen of oak, walnut, hickory (so hard to move)—but an elm over-tone was the plan, and a clump of priestly pines near the stable. These are still in the revulsions of transition; their beauty is yet to be. Time brings that, as it will smoke the beams, clothe the stone-work in vines, establish the roses and wistaria on the Southern exposure, slope and mellow and put the bloom over all.
We remained until November and returned the following April to stay. In the meantime the three children—a girl of ten and two younger boys—had almost their final bit of public schooling, though I was not so sure of that then; in fact, I planned to have them continue their training from April on in the small town school until the summer vacation. This was tried for a few weeks, the result of the experience hastening us toward the task of teaching our own.
Matters of child-education became really interesting to me for the first time that winter. There were certain unfoldings of the little daughter in our house, and I was associating a good deal with a group of teachers in town, some of whom while still professionally caught in the rigid forms of modern education, were decades ahead in realisation. I recall especially a talk with one of my old teachers, a woman who had taught thirty years, given herself freely to three generations—her own and mine and to another since then. She had administered to me a thing called rhetoric in another age, and she looked just the same, having kept her mind wide open to new and challenging matters of literature and life and religious thought.
I had the pleasant sense in this talk of bringing my doubts and ideas to her tentatively, much as I used to bring an essay in school days. She still retained a vivid impression of my faults, but the very finest human relationships are established upon the knowledge of one's weaknesses—as the Master established His church upon the weakest link of the discipleship. Speaking of the children, I observed:
"I find them ready, when they ask. In the old occult schools there is a saying that the teacher will always come half-way, but that the student must also come half-way——"
"It is soil and seed in everything," the woman said. "In all life, it is so. There must be a giving, but also a receiving. I talk to five classes a day—twenty-five to fifty students each—but so much falls upon stony ground, among tares, so much is snapped up by the birds——"
"When a child asks a question, he is prepared to receive," I repeated. "If the answer is true and well-designed, it will stay. The question itself proves that the soil is somehow ready——"
"Yes," she said, "but one cannot sit at a desk and wait for questions. The teacher in dealing with numbers must not only plant the seed, but prepare the soil, too."
"I should say that the way to do that would be to quicken the imagination—to challenge the imagination," I suggested. "I know it has to be done in writing a story. One has to pick up the reader and carry him away at first. And most readers are limp or logy in the midst of abundance."
The teacher bowed gravely. Apparently she had come to listen.
"... Now, with this little girl here, there is but one subject that surely interests her. That has to do with the old Mother of us all——"
"Yes. I've tried to find out something of what Nature means to her—what pictures mean Nature to that fresh young mind. It seems to her, Nature is a kind of presiding mother to all things, possibly something like a God-mother—to kittens and trees and butterflies and roses and children. She is mistress of the winds and the harvests.... I have talked with her about it. Sometimes again, Nature is like a wonderful cabinet—shelf after shelf full of amazing things, finished or to be finished. I told her about the Sun as the Father, and Nature the Mother. That helped her. She held to that. Always now when we fall into talk naturally—it is about the old Mother and the brilliant Father who pours his strength upon all concerned—Mother Nature's mate."
The teacher nodded indulgently. "That's preparing the soil. That's quickening the imagination. But one must have imagination to do that——"
We fell silent. I was thinking of the old school days—of the handful of days in the midst of thousands that had left a gleam; of the tens of thousands of young women now teaching in America without the gleam; beginning to teach at the most distracted period of their lives, when all Nature is drawing them toward mating and reproduction....
"Yes, a teacher should have imagination," I added. "There's no way out of that, really. A teacher who hasn't—kills it in the child; at least, all the pressure of unlit teaching is a deadening weight upon the child's imagination. What is it that makes all our misery—but the lack of imagination? If men could see the pictures around everything, the wonderful connecting lines about life, they couldn't be caught so terribly in the visible and the detached objects; they couldn't strangle and repress their real impulses and rush for things to hold in their hands for a little time. If they had imagination they would see that the things they hold in their hands are disintegrating now as everything in Nature is; that the hand itself weakens and loses its power. Why, here we are upstanding—half-gods asleep within us. Imagination alone—the seeing of the spirit of things—that can awaken us."
I felt the need of apologising at this point for getting on that old debatable ground—but the secret was out. It was the essence of my forming ideas on educating the children, as it is the essence of everything else—all writing, all craftsmanship, labour and life itself.
"... Half-gods asleep in a vesture," I added. "All nature and life prompting us to see that it is but vesture we make so much of. Children see it—and the world takes them in their dearest years, and scale by scale covers their vision. I talked with a man yesterday—a man I like—a good man, who loves his wife by the pound, believes all things prospering when fat—children and churches, purses and politicians. A big, imperial-looking man himself, world-trained, a man who has learned to cover his weaknesses and show a good loser on occasion; yet, through twenty years' acquaintance, he has never revealed to me a ray other than from the visible and the obvious. He hunted me up because one of his children seemed to want to write. We talked in a club-room and I happened to note the big steel chandelier above his head. If that should fall, this creature before me would mainly be carrion.
"You see what I mean. He has spent every energy of his life here, in building the vesture. That which would escape from the inert poundage has not been awakened. One of the queerest facts of all life is that these half-gods of ours must be awakened here in the flesh. No sooner are they aroused than we have imagination; we begin to see the connecting lines of all things, the flashes of the spirit of things at once. No workman, no craftsman or artisan can be significant without it.... However, as I thought of the chandelier and the sumptuous flesh beneath, I talked of writing—something of what writing means to me. When I stopped, he said:
"'I didn't know you were so religious.... But about this writing matter——' and opened the subject again....
"He's all right. Nature will doubtless take care of him. Perhaps his view of life: 'I see what I see and take what I can,' is as much as is asked from the many in the great plan of things—but I like madness better. To me, his is fatal enchantment; to me, wars and all tragedies are better. I would rather live intensely in error than stolidly in things as they are. If this is a devil and not a half-god that sleeps within—at least, I want him awake. I must feel his force. If he is a devil, perhaps I can beat him."
"That's something of a definition of imagination," the teacher said, "——seeing the spirit of things."
"I hadn't thought of it as a definition—but it expresses what the real part of life means to me. Men and women move about life and affairs, knowing nine out of ten times what is going to happen next in their wheel of things; what their neighbour is going to say next, from the routine of the day's events. After a little of that, I have to run away—to a book, to a task, to an awakened imagination. Only those who are in a measure like us can liberate us. That's the key to our friendships, our affections and loves. We seek those who set us free—they have a cup to hold the vital things we have to give—a surface to receive. If they are in a measure our true kin—our dynamics is doubled. That's the secret of affinities, by the way——"
The teacher smiled at me. "Tell me more about the little girl," she said.
"... She learned so quickly from the processes of Nature. I found her sitting in the midst of the young corn last summer, where the ground was filled with vents from the escaping moisture. I told her about the root systems and why cultivation means so much to corn in dry weather. She read one of Henry Ward Beecher's Star Papers and verified many of its fine parts. She finds the remarkable activities in standing water. The Shore is ever bringing her new studies. Every day is Nature's. The rain is sweet; even the East winds bring their rigour and enticements. She looks every morning, as I do, at the Other Shore. We know the state of the air by that. And the air is such drink to her. You have no idea how full the days are."
"You mean to make a writer of her?" the teacher asked.
"No—that was settled the first day. I asked the little girl what she wanted to be."
"'I want to be a mother,' she answered.
"'Of course,' said I, thoughtfully.... It had been the same with her music. She liked it and did well, but it never burned into her deeps—never aroused her productivity. And I have found it so with her little attempts at written expression. She is to be a mother—the highest of the arts.... Once we saw the terrible drama of the hornet and the grasshopper. I had read it in Fabre, and was enabled to watch it work out with some intelligence. Nature is a perfect network of processes, the many still to be discovered, not by human eyes but by intuitional vision. Finally I asked her to write what she thought of one of our walks together, not trying to remember what I had said—only expressing something of the activity which my words suggested."
The teacher nodded again. Her face had become saddened.
"I would not encourage her to become a writer," I repeated. "Expression of some sort is imperative. It is the right hand. We receive with the left, so to speak, but we must give something of our own for what we receive. It is the giving that completes the circle; the giving formulates, makes matter of vision, makes the dream come true. You know the tragedies of dreaming without expression. Even insanity comes of that. I have never told her matters of technique in writing, and was amazed to find that she has something that none of us grown-ups have, who are formed of our failures and drive our expression through an arsenal of laws and fears."
"Do you mean that you instruct her in nothing of technique?"
"I haven't—at least, not yet. I have hardly thought of it as instruction even."
"Her spelling is too novel. It would not do to spoil that. In fact, she is learning to spell and punctuate quite rapidly enough from reading. These matters are automatic. The world has taught men to spell rather completely. God knows we've had enough of it, to the abandonment of the real. I could misspell a word in every paragraph of a three-hundred-page manuscript without detriment to the reception of the same, all that being corrected without charge. There are men who can spell, whose God-given faculties have been taught to spell, who have met the world with freshness and power, and have learned to spell. I have no objection to correct spelling. I would rather have it than not, except from children. But these are things which a man does with the back of his neck, and he who does the constructive tasks of the world uses different and higher organs."
"I have taught much spelling," the teacher said quietly.
"You will forgive me for being so enthusiastic. These things are fresh to me," I said.
"The little girl is ten, you say?"
"She has a fine chance," the teacher remarked presently. "It saddens me to think of my myriads. But we do our best——"
"That is one sure thing," I said quickly.
"Still you are taking her away from us."
I felt a throb of meaning from that. I had to be sure she meant just as much as that throb meant to me. Constructive realisations come this way.
"What do you mean—taking her away?"
"You will make a solitary of her. She will not be of the world. You deal with one lovingly. It will become more and more a part of your work. Your work is of a kind to show you the way. She is following rapidly. I believe you have established the point that one can learn best from within, but one who does, must be so much alone. The ways will be lost between her and her generation—as represented by my five classes each day."
I had done a good deal of talking, but the teacher had guided me straight to the crossing—and with very few words. I realised now that more and more, I was undertaking to show the little girl short cuts to possessions that I had found valuable, but for which I had been forced to go around, and often with difficulty. Above all, I was trying to keep open that dream-passage, to keep unclouded that lens between spirit and flesh through which fairies are seen and the lustrous connecting lines around all things. By every impulse I was arousing imagination—it is all said in that. In doing this, was I also making a "solitary" of her—lifting her apart from the many?
There was no squirming out. I was doing exactly this; and if I went on, the job would be done more and more completely.
"She is not strange or different now," I said, "but see what will happen. She will find it harder and harder to stay. She will begin searching for those who liberate her. They are hard to find—not to be found among the many. Books and nature and her dreams—but the many will not follow her to these sources.... And yet every man and woman I know who are great to me, have entered this solitude in childhood. They were Solitaries—that seems the mark of the questers.... Why, you would not have one stay with the many—just to avoid the loneliness and the heart-pulling that leads us into ourselves. Everything done in the world that is loved and remembered—every life lived with beauty and productiveness to the many—has come from the Solitaries. Quest, that is the greatest word in English. One must have imagination to set out on the quest.... In reality we only search for our real selves—that which we yearn toward is the arousing of the half-gods within. When they are fully awake, we return to tell the many. Perhaps we do meet a more poignant suffering—but that is an honour——"
The teacher was smiling at me again. "Do you not see," she asked, "that all that you do and say and teach is for those who have the essential imagination?"
"But children have it," I said.
I could not stay away entirely that winter. After a week or ten days of hard work, night-classes and furnace air—imagination would work to the extent that a day by the open fire was required. It seemed to me some days that I wanted a century of silence.... There was one bright cold mid-March day, the northern shore still frozen a mile out. I had come forth from the city to smell wood-smoke, a spring symptom. It was now sunset. In the noble stillness, which for many moments had been broken only by the sagging of the dead ice, there came now a great cackling of geese, so that I looked up the lane a quarter of a mile to the nearest farmyard, wondering who had turned loose the collie pups. It hadn't occurred to me to look up; and that, when you come to think of it, is one of the tragedies of being city-bred.
Presently I had to. Voices of wild geese carry with astonishing force and accuracy. A hundred yards ahead was the long-necked gander, with the lines of a destroyer, his wings sweeping more slowly because of their strength and gear, yet he was making the pace. Then came his second in command, also alone, and as far back again, the point of the V. In this case, the formation was uneven, the left oblique being twice as extended as the right.... They were all cackling, as I imagined, because of the open water ahead, for geese either honk or are silent in passage. They began to break just above, the formation shattering piece by piece as they swept on with wild ardour toward the ice-openings. Coming up from the thrall of the thing, I found my hat in hand.
It would shake any one. Indeed, there's a fine thrill in the flight of ducks—darting dwarfs compared to these standard-breds, whose pinions sweep but once to the triple-beat of the twinkling red-heads and canvas-backs. You can tell the difference by the twinkle, when the distance over water confuses the eye as to size. Mighty twelve-pounders with a five-foot spread of wing, many of these, and with more than a suggestion of the swan's mystic grandeur in passing.
Somewhere back of memory, most of us have strange relations with the wild things. Something deeper than the beauty of them thrills. Moments of music stir these inward animations; or steaming for the first time into certain oriental harbours. Suddenly we are estranged from the self, as we know it, and are greater beings. I feel as new as a tourist before Niagara or Montmorency, but as old as Paul and Silas in the presence of the Chinese Wall. The lips of many men, strange save to common sayings, are loosed to murmurings of deepest yearning before the spectacle of a full-rigged ship; and it matters not if, within memory, they have ever felt the tug of filling cloth in the timber underfoot, or crossed even an inland waterway without steam. It was this that the flight of geese gave me—a throb from the ancient and perennial romance of the soul.
Many a man goes gunning on the same principle, and thinks that the urge is game. It isn't so, unless he is a mere animated stomach; the many think they have come into their own as they go to sea, the vibration of the triple-screws singing along the keel.... They pass an iceberg or a derelict, some contour of tropical shore, a fishing fleet, or an old fore-and-after, and the steamer is a stifling modern metropolis after that—galley and stoke-hole its slums. Then and there, they vow some time really to go to sea.
Sing the song of steam—the romance of steel? There isn't any, yet. Generations hence, when the last turbine comes puffing into port, taking its place like a dingy collier in the midst of ether-driven hydroplanes—some youth on the waterfront, perhaps, will turn his back on the crowd, and from his own tossing emotions at sight of the old steamer—emotions which defy mere brain and scorn the upstart memory—will catch the coherent story of it all, and his expression will be the song of steam. For the pangs and passions of the Soul can only become articulate at the touch of some ancient reminder, which erects a magnificent distance of perspective, and permits to flood in the stillness of that larger time, whose crises are epochal and whose yesterdays are lives.
* * * * *
Waiting for the suburban car that night in the little Lake town, I mentioned the flying wedge.
"Why, those are Jack Miner's geese," remarked a voice of the waiting-room.
I ignored a reply. A local witticism past doubt—the cut-up of the place. Jack Miner, as I saw it, might own Pelee Island, Lake Erie or the District of Columbia, but no man's pronoun of possession has any business relation to a flock of wild geese, the same being about the wildest things we have left. I recalled the crippled goose which the farmer's boy chased around a hay-stack for the better part of a June afternoon, and only saw once; the goose being detained that particular once with the dog of the establishment. This dog ranged the countryside for many years thereafter, but couldn't be coaxed past a load of hay, and was even sceptical of corn-shocks. I knew, moreover, that the geese are shot at from the Gulf rice-marshes to the icy Labradors; that they fly slightly higher since the common use of smokeless instead of black powder.
Yet the stranger hadn't been humorous. Any of his fellow townsmen would have made the same remark. In fact, I had the good fortune a few weeks afterward to see several hundred wild geese playing and feeding on Jack Miner's farm—within a hundred feet of his door-step, many of them.
Years ago, a winter came on to stay before the corn was all in—a patch of corn on a remote backfield of Jack Miner's farm. A small flock of geese flying North in March, knew as much about the loss as Jack did. A farm-hand was first to note their call, and got such a case of wanderlust when he observed the geese that he kept on going without return to the house. He wrote, however, this significant news:
"Jack: Wild guse on your pleace. Leve corn on wood-lot. He come back mabe. Steve."
Jack Miner did just that; and the next year he left the corn a little nearer the house and so on. Meanwhile he made a law that you couldn't come onto his place with a shotgun. He couldn't stop the townspeople from taking a shot at the small flocks as they passed over, from the farm feeding ground to the Lake, but the geese didn't seem to expect that of Jack. He says they would miss it, if the shooting stopped, and get stale; and then it does a similar lot for the town in the critical month of April.
Finally Jack built a large concrete pond on his house acres, leaving much corn on the clean marges. He has a strong heart to wait with. The geese "had him" when he first carried forth the corn, but it was a year or two afterward before a daring young gander and pair made a hasty drop. For once there was no chorus of "I-told-you-so's," from the wiser heads cocked stiff as cattails from the low growth of the surrounding fields. That was the second beginning.
The system has been cumulative ever since, and in something like this order: fifteen, forty, one hundred and fifty, four hundred, six hundred—in five years. The geese never land all at once in the artificial pond—some watching as far back as from the remote wood-lot, others in the south fields across the road. Jack Miner feeds five bushels of corn a day and would like to feed fifteen.
"A rich man can afford a few geese," he remarked, "but it takes a poor man to feed six hundred."
He asked the Canadian Government for one hundred dollars the year to help feed the geese, but the formidable process entailed to get it evidently dismayed Ottawa at the outset, for it didn't go through. An automobile magnate came over from the States recently. The substance of his call didn't leak out. In any event, Jack Miner is still managing his brick-kiln. Bird-fanciers come nowadays in season from all over the States and Provinces, and Jack feeds them too. Meantime, we Lake folk who come early enough to the Shore to see the inspiring flocks flying overland to the water in the beginnings of dusk, and hear them out on the Lake where they moor at night, a bedtime music that makes for strange dreaming—we know well what kind of a gift to the community Jack Miner is; and we are almost as sorry as he, when the keen, hardy Norse blood of the birds calls them forth from the May balm.
Of course, Jack is an individual. He has time to plant roses as well as corn. At luncheon to-day, there was an armful of red roses on the table from Jack Miner's. He had sent them three miles in hay time, and didn't know that I had spent the morning in writing about his geese. He has time to tempt thousands of smaller birds to his acreage. It's one seething bird-song there. Besides, he makes a fine brick. You'd expect him to be a workman.... But the wild geese are a part of his soul.
"I've watched them for a good many years now," he told me. "I've seen them tackle a man, a bull, a team, and stand against the swoop of an eagle. Two ganders may be hard as swordsmen at each other, when they're drawing off their flocks, but they'll stand back to back against any outsider. Yes, I've watched them a long time, and I've never yet seen them do anything a man would be ashamed of. Why, I'd like to see the wild goose on the back of the Canadian flag!"
I wondered if Canada were worthy, but didn't say so.
It is rather too fine an event to go often to Jack Miner's. The deeper impressions are those which count, and such are spontaneous. They do not come at call. One feels as if breaking into one of the natural mysteries—at first glimpse of the huge geese so near at hand—a spectacle of beauty and speed not to be forgotten. They are built long and clean. Unlike the larger fliers as a whole, they need little or no run to rise; it is enough to say that they rise from the water. You can calculate from that the marvellous strength of pinion. And they are continental wing-rangers that know the little roads of men, as they know the great lakes and waterways and mountain chains—Jack Miner's door-yard and Hudson's Bay.
"I'd give a lot to see one right close, Jack," said I.
"You don't have to. Come on."
He took me to a little enclosure where a one-winged gander was held.
"He came home to me with a wing broken one Sunday," said Jack. "It was heavy going, but he managed to get here. I thought at first we'd have some goose, but we didn't. The fact is, I was sort of proud that he came home in his trouble. I took the wing off, as you see. He's doing fine, but he tried to drink himself to death, as they all do. That appears to be the way they fix a broken wing. It may be the fever or the pain; anyway, they'll drink until they die. I kept this fellow dry, until he healed."
The splendid gamester stretched out his black head and hissed at me—something liquid and venomous in the sound—the long black beak as fine and polished as a case for a girl's penknife. He was game to the core and wild as ever.... Jack hadn't let him die—perhaps he felt out of the law because of that.
"I'll go and do my chores," Jack Miner said. "You can stay and think it out."
I knew from that how well he understood the same big thing out of the past which the wild bird meant to me. He had the excellent delicacy which comes from experience, to leave me there alone.
An hysterical gabble broke the contemplation. Waddling up from behind was a tame goose. The shocking thing was too fat and slow to keep itself clean—its head snubbed, its voice crazily pitched, its wings gone back to a rudiment, its huge food-apparatus sagging to the ground, straining to lay itself against the earth, like a billiard-ball in a stocking full of feathers.
And before me was the Magnificent, one that had made his continental flights, fasting for them, as saints fast in aspiration—lean and long, powerful and fine in brain and beak and wing—an admirable adversary, an antagonist worthy of eagles, ready for death rather than for captivity.... All that Gibbon ever wrote stood between this game bird and its obscene relative dragging its liver about a barnyard—the rise and fall of the Roman, and every other human and natural, empire—the rise by toil and penury and aspiration, and the fall to earth again in the mocking ruins of plenty....
Good Jack Miner expressed the same, but in his own way, when he came back from the chores.
As related, I had seen the Lake-front property first in August. The hollows were idealised into sunken gardens, while the mason was building the stone study. We returned in April—and the bluff was like a string of lakes. The garden in the rear had been ploughed wrong. Rows of asparagus were lanes of still water, the roots cut off from their supply of air. Moreover, the frogs commented in concert upon our comings and goings.... I set about the salvage alone, and as I worked thoughts came. Do you know the suction of clay—the weight of adhering clay to a shovel? You can lift a stone and drop it, but the substance goes out of a city man's nerve when he lifts a shovel of clay and finds it united in a stubborn bond with the implement. I went back to the typewriter, and tried to keep up with the gang of ditchers who came and tiled the entire piece. It was like healing the sick to see the water go off, but a bad day for the frogs in the ponds where the bricks had been made.
"You'll be surprised at the change in the land which this tiling will make in one season," the boss told me. "It will turn over next corn-planting time like a heap of ashes."
That's the general remark. Good land turns over like a heap of ashes.
I would hardly dare to tell how I enjoyed working in that silent cave of red firelight. Matters of craftsmanship were continually in my thoughts—especially the need in every human heart of producing something. Before the zest is utterly drained by popular din from that word "efficiency," be reminded that the good old word originally had to do with workmanship and not with dollar-piling.... The world is crowded with bad workmen. Much of its misery and cruelty is the result of bad workmanship, which in its turn results from the lack of imagination. A man builds his character in his work; through character alone is the stamina furnished to withstand with dignity the heavy pressures of life.
... I arranged with a neighbour to do some work for me. In fact he asked for the work, and promised to come the next Tuesday. He did not appear. Toward the end of the week following I passed him in the lane that leads down to the Lake—a tall, tired man, sitting beside a huge stone, his back against a Lombard poplar, a shotgun across his knees.
"I thought I'd wait here, and see if I couldn't hit one of them geese," he explained, as I came up.
It seemed I had never seen such a tired face. His eyes were burning like the eyes of a sentry, long unrelieved, at the outpost of a city.... The geese ride at mooring out in the Lake at night. I have fallen asleep listening to their talk far out in the dark. But I have never seen them fly overland before sunset, which was two hours away at the time I passed up the lane. I do not know how long Monte had been sitting there.
Now except for the triviality of the promise, I had no objection to his not working for me, and no objection to his feeding his family, thus first-handed, though very little breast of the game wild goose comes to the board of such as he.... I was on the way to the forge of a workman. I wanted a knocker for an oaken door; and I wanted it just so. Moreover, I knew the man who would make it for me.
At the head of the lane, still on the way, I met a farmer, who had not missed the figure propped between the stone and the poplar tree. He said that the last time Monte had borrowed his gun, he had brought it back fouled. That was all he said.
I passed Monte's house, which is the shocking depression of a prosperous community. There were many children—a stilled and staring lot. They sat in dust upon the ground. They were not waiting for goose. Their father had never inspired them with expectancy of any sort; their mother would have spoiled a goose, had it been brought by a neighbour. She came to the door as I passed, spilled kitchen refuse over the edge of the door-stone, and vanished. The children seemed waiting for death. The virtue of fatherhood is not to be measured numerically.... April was nearly over, but the unsightly heaps that the snows had covered were not yet cleared away. Humped, they were, among the children. This is a world-old picture—one that need not be finished.
Monte was not a good shot, not a good workman, not a good father—a burden and bad odour everywhere, a tainter of the town and the blood of the human race. That, which was gathered about him was as pitifully bred as reared. Monte's one value lay in his horrible exemplarship. He was a complete slum microcosm, without which no civilisation has yet arrived. Monte has given me more to think about than any of the happier people. In his own mute way, he reminds each man of the depths, furnishes the low mark of the human sweep, and keeps us from forgetting the world as it is, the myriads of bad workmen of which the leaning cities are made.
Sitting there by the rock, letting the hours go by—and in his own weak heart, my neighbour knew that he wouldn't "hit one of them geese." All his life he had failed. Nature had long since ceased trying to tempt him into real production. Even his series of natural accidents was doubtless exhausted. That is the pace that kills—that sitting.
I went on to the forge of the workman. We talked together. I sat by while he made the thing I wanted, which was not an ornament simply. He will always be identified there in the oak, an excellent influence; just as I think of him when I save the wood in the open fireplace, because of the perfect damper he made for the stone chimney. Monte was still there when I went back. The problem of him returned to mind after the freshening of the forge.
He belongs to us as a people, and we have not done well by him. We did not help him to find his work. We did not consider his slowness, nor the weariness of his flesh, the sickness he came with, nor the impoverishment of his line. We are not finding their work for his children. We have sent them home from school because they were not clean. We complain that they waste what we give them; that they are harder on the shoes we furnish, than are our own children. We do not inquire with wisdom into their life, to learn on which side of the human meridian they stand—whether their disease is decadence and senility of spiritual life, or whether their spines are but freshly lifted from the animal levels.
As a purely physical aggregate—if our civilisation be that—our business is quickly to exterminate Monte and his whole breed. He embarrasses us, as sleeker individuals of the herd and hive. He is tolerated to the diseases with which he infects us, because we have weakened our resistance with cleanliness. But by the authority of our better understanding, by our sacred writings and the intuitions of our souls, we are men and no longer an animal aggregate. As men, our business is to lift Monte from his lowly condition, and hold him there; to make him and his children well first, and then to make workmen of them. There are workmen in the world for this very task of lifting Monte and his brood. We do not use them, because the national instinct of Fatherhood is not yet profoundly developed. We are not yet brothers.
* * * * *
In the recent winter months in the city it came to me that I had certain things to tell a group of young men. The class was arranged. In the beginning I warned them not to expect literary matters; that I meant to offer no plan to reach the short-story markets (a game always rather deep for me); that the things which I wanted to tell were those which had helped me toward being a man, not an artist. Fifteen young men were gathered—all strangers to me. When we were really acquainted, weeks afterward, I discovered that seven of the fifteen had been writing for months or years—that there was certain stuff in the seven that would write or die.
They had not come for what I meant to give. As a whole they were indifferent at first to my idea of the inner life. They had come for the gleanings I would drop, because I could not help it, having spent twenty years learning how to learn to write. The name that had called them from the different parts of the city was identified for good or bad in their minds with the work they meant to do. And what I did for them was done as a workman—that was my authority—a workman, a little older, a little farther along in the craft that called.
And to every workman there are eager apprentices, who hunger to know, not his way, but the way. Every workman who does the best he can, has a store of value for the younger ones, who are drawn, they know not why, to the production he represents. Moreover, the workman would learn more than he could give, but he is not called. He seldom offers himself, because the laugh of the world has already maimed him deeply.... I had told them austerely what I would do for them, and what I would not do; but I did more and more what they really asked, for therein and not elsewhere I had a certain authority. More and more accurately I learned to furnish what they came for. All my work in the study alone was to do just that for a larger class, and in this effort I stumbled upon the very heart of the fatherhood ideal and the educational ideal—for they are one and the same.
A man is at his best in those periods in which self-interest is lost to him. The work in which a man can lose the sense of self for the most hours each day—that is his especial task. When the workman gives forth the best that is in him, not feeling his body, above all its passions and petty devices for ruling him, concentrated upon the task, a pure instrument of his task and open to all inspiration regarding it—that man is safe and superb. There is something holy in the crafts and arts. It is not an accident that a painting lives three hundred years. We are not permitted to forget the great potters, the great metallists, the rug and tapestry makers. They put themselves in their tasks, and we are very long in coming to the end of their fineness.
They produced. They made their dreams come true in matter; and that is exactly what our immortal selves are given flesh to perform. Each workman finds in his own way the secret of the force he represents. He is an illuminated soul in this discovery. It comes only to a man when he is giving forth, when he is in love, having lost the love of self. Giving forth purely the best of self, as the great workmen do, a man is on the highway to the divine vocation which is the love and service of humanity.
... They begin to call him twenty minutes before dinner is ready. He is caught in the dream of the thing and has little time to bargain for it. He feels for his glasses, when you call him forth; he sweats; he listens to the forge that calls him. The unfinished thing is not only on his bench, but in his mind—in its weakness, half-born and uncouth.... "Talk to my daughter. She knows about these things," he says. "I must go.... Yes, it is a fine day."
It is raining like as not.... And because the world has laughed at him so long, he has forgotten how to tell his story by the time he has perfected his task. The world laughs at its betters with the same facility that it laughs at the half-men. Our national and municipal fathers should teach us first that the man who has found his work is one of the kings of the earth. Children should be taught to know a workman anywhere. All excellence in human affairs should be judged by the workmanship and not by the profits.
We are neighbourhoods in name only. How often has our scorn for some strange little man changed to excited appreciation, when the world came at last to his shop with its sanctions of money and noisy affairs. He is nervous and ill at ease. His world has ceased to laugh. He wonders at that; asks himself if this praise and show is not a new kind of laughter, for he cannot forget the grinding and the rending of the early years—when there were days in which he doubted even his work. Perhaps his has been a divided house all these years; it may be that he has lost even Her for his work.
The world has left him richer, but he is not changed, and back to the shop again. A man's work lives with him to the end—and beyond—that is the eternal reason of its importance.... All quandaries cease; all doubts sink into the silence; the task assumes once more; his real life is awake; the heart of reality throbs for him, adjusting the workman to an identity which cannot grow old.
He may not know this miracle of fine workmanship. This that has come to him from the years of truth, may not be a possible expression from his lips, but he knows in his heart one of the highest truths of here below: That nothing which the world can give is payment for fine workmanship; that the world is never so vulgar as when it thinks it can pay in money for a life's task. The workman can only be paid in kind.
It is not the product that men use that holds the immortal result. They may come to his shop fifty years after he has left it; they may cross seas and continents to reach this shop, saying: "This is where he did it. His bench was just there—his house over yonder. Here is where he stood, and there he hung his coat." But these are only refinements of irony.... They may say, "This is his grandson." But that will only handicap or ruin the child, if he find not his work. A thousand lesser workmen may improve his product, lighten it, accelerate its potency, adapt it to freight rates—but that is no concern of the dream.
The payment of it all, the glory of it all, is that the real workman finds himself. His soul has awakened. In the trance of his task, he has lost the love of self which the world knows, and found the blessedness of the source of his being. He does not need to state it philosophically, for he lived it. He found the secret of blessedness, if not of happiness. At his bench, he integrated the life that lasts. He could have told you in the early years, if the world had not laughed. He would have learned himself more swiftly, had he been encouraged to tell, as he toiled—if the world had not shamed away the few who were drawn to his bench.
But alone, he got it all at last—the passion and power of the spiritual workman which sustains him now, though his body has lain under the hill for fifty years. His shop is the place of a greater transaction than his task. The breadth and essence of it that lingers makes it a sacred place to the few who would take off their shoes to enter—were it not for the misunderstanding of the world.
Out of the artificial he became natural; out of the workman, he emerged a man, a living soul.
I would support every plan or dream of education, and none other, that seeks to find for the youth his life work. I would call upon every workman personally to help; and urge for every community, the goodness of its products and not the richness of its markets. I would put the world's premium upon fine workmanship of the hand or brain or spirit; and a stiff pressure upon the multiplication of these products by mechanical means, for we have too many common things, and so few fine things. I would inculcate in the educational ideal, first of all, that in every man there is a dream, just as there is a soul, and that to express the dream of the soul in matter is the perfect individual performance. I would impress upon the youth that in all arts and crafts, the dream fades and the spirit of the product dies away, when many are made in the original likeness. Nature does not make duplicates; her creative hallmark is upon every leaf and bee; upon every cliff and cloud and star.