More Jonathan Papers
By Elisabeth Woodbridge
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY The Riverside Press Cambridge 1915
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY ELISABETH WOODBRIDGE MORRIS
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published November 1915
I. The Searchings of Jonathan II. Sap-Time III. Evenings on the Farm IV. After Frost V. The Joys of Garden Stewardship VI. Trout and Arbutus VII. Without the Time of Day VIII. The Ways of Griselda IX. A Rowboat Pilgrimage Colophon Appendix A: Extra Front Pages Errata
More Jonathan Papers
The Searchings of Jonathan
"What I find it hard to understand is, why a person who can see a spray of fringed gentian in the middle of a meadow can't see a book on the sitting-room table."
"The reason why I can see the gentian," said Jonathan, "is because the gentian is there."
"So is the book," I responded.
"Which table?" he asked.
"The one with the lamp on it. It's a red book, about so big."
"It isn't there; but, just to satisfy you, I'll look again."
He returned in a moment with an argumentative expression of countenance. "It isn't there," he said firmly. "Will anything else do instead?"
"No, I wanted you to read that special thing. Oh, dear! And I have all these things in my lap! And I know it is there."
"And I know it isn't." He stretched himself out in the hammock and watched me as I rather ostentatiously laid down thimble, scissors, needle, cotton, and material and set out for the sitting-room table. There were a number of books on it, to be sure. I glanced rapidly through the piles, fingered the lower books, pushed aside a magazine, and pulled out from beneath it the book I wanted. I returned to the hammock and handed it over. Then, after possessing myself, again rather ostentatiously, of material, cotton, needle, scissors, and thimble, I sat down.
"It's the second essay I specially thought we'd like," I said.
"Just for curiosity," said Jonathan, with an impersonal air, "where did you find it?"
"Find what?" I asked innocently.
"Oh! On the table."
"The one with the lamp on it."
"I should like to know where."
"Why—just there—on the table. There was an 'Atlantic' on top of it, to be sure."
"I saw the 'Atlantic.' Blest if it looked as though it had anything under it! Besides, I was looking for it on top of things. You said you laid it down there just before luncheon, and I didn't think it could have crawled in under so quick."
"When you're looking for a thing," I said, "you mustn't think, you must look. Now go ahead and read."
If this were a single instance, or even if it were one of many illustrating a common human frailty, it would hardly be worth setting down. But the frailty under consideration has come to seem to me rather particularly masculine. Are not all the Jonathans in the world continually being sent to some sitting-room table for something, and coming back to assert, with more or less pleasantness, according to their temperament, that it is not there? The incident, then, is not isolated; it is typical of a vast group. For Jonathan, read Everyman; for the red book, read any particular thing that you want Him to bring; for the sitting-room table, read the place where you know it is and Everyman says it isn't.
This, at least, is my thesis. It is not, however, unchallenged. Jonathan has challenged it when, from time to time, as occasion offered, I have lightly sketched it out for him. Sometimes he argues that my instances are really isolated cases and that their evidence is not cumulative, at others he takes refuge in a tu quoque—in itself a confession of weakness—and alludes darkly to "top shelves" and "bottom drawers." But let us have no mysteries. These phrases, considered as arguments, have their origin in certain incidents which, that all the evidence may be in, I will here set down.
Once upon a time I asked Jonathan to get me something from the top shelf in the closet. He went, and failed to find it. Then I went, and took it down. Jonathan, watching over my shoulder, said, "But that wasn't the top shelf, I suppose you will admit."
Sure enough! There was a shelf above. "Oh, yes; but I don't count that shelf. We never use it, because nobody can reach it."
"How do you expect me to know which shelves you count and which you don't?"
"Of course, anatomically—structurally—it is one, but functionally it isn't there at all."
"I see," said Jonathan, so contentedly that I knew he was filing this affair away for future use.
On another occasion I asked him to get something for me from the top drawer of the old "high-boy" in the dining-room. He was gone a long while, and at last, growing impatient, I followed. I found him standing on an old wooden-seated chair, screw-driver in hand. A drawer on a level with his head was open, and he had hanging over his arm a gaudy collection of ancient table-covers and embroidered scarfs, mostly in shades of magenta.
"She stuck, but I've got her open now. I don't see any pillow-cases, though. It's all full of these things." He pumped his laden arm up and down, and the table-covers wagged gayly.
I sank into the chair and laughed. "Oh! Have you been prying at that all this time? Of course there's nothing in that drawer."
"There's where you're wrong. There's a great deal in it; I haven't taken out half. If you want to see—"
"I don't want to see! There's nothing I want less! What I mean is—I never put anything there."
"It's the top drawer." He was beginning to lay back the table-covers.
"But I can't reach it. And it's been stuck for ever so long."
"You said the top drawer."
"Yes, I suppose I did. Of course what I meant was the top one of the ones I use."
"I see, my dear. When you say top shelf you don't mean top shelf, and when you say top drawer you don't mean top drawer; in fact, when you say top you don't mean top at all—you mean the height of your head. Everything above that doesn't count."
Jonathan was so pleased with this formulation of my attitude that he was not in the least irritated to have put out unnecessary work. And his satisfaction was deepened by one more incident. I had sent him to the bottom drawer of my bureau to get a shawl. He returned without it, and I was puzzled. "Now, Jonathan, it's there, and it's the top thing."
"The real top," murmured Jonathan, "or just what you call top?"
"It's right in front," I went on; "and I don't see how even a man could fail to find it."
He proceeded to enumerate the contents of the drawer in such strange fashion that I began to wonder where he had been.
"I said my bureau."
"I went to your bureau."
"The bottom drawer."
"The bottom drawer. There was nothing but a lot of little boxes and—"
"Oh, I know what you did! You went to the secret drawer."
"Isn't that the bottom one?"
"Why, yes, in a way—of course it is; but it doesn't exactly count—it's not one of the regular drawers—it hasn't any knobs, or anything—"
"But it's a perfectly good drawer."
"Yes. But nobody is supposed to know it's there; it looks like a molding—"
"But I know it's there."
"Yes, of course."
"And you know I know it's there."
"Yes, yes; but I just don't think about that one in counting up. I see what you mean, of course."
"And I see what you mean. You mean that your shawl is in the bottom one of the regular drawers—with knobs—that can be alluded to in general conversation. Now I think I can find it."
He did. And in addition he amused himself by working out phrases about "when is a bottom drawer not a bottom drawer?" and "when is a top shelf not a top shelf?"
It is to these incidents—which I regard as isolated and negligible, and he regards as typical and significant—that he alludes on the occasions when he is unable to find a red book on the sitting-room table. In vain do I point out that when language is variable and fluid it is alive, and that there may be two opinions about the structural top and the functional top, whereas there can be but one as to the book being or not being on the table. He maintains a quiet cheerfulness, as of one who is conscious of being, if not invulnerable, at least well armed.
For a time he even tried to make believe that he was invulnerable as well—to set up the thesis that if the book was really on the table he could find it. But in this he suffered so many reverses that only strong natural pertinacity kept him from capitulation.
Is it necessary to recount instances? Every family can furnish them. As I allow myself to float off into a reminiscent dream I find my mind possessed by a continuous series of dissolving views in which Jonathan is always coming to me saying, "It isn't there," and I am always saying, "Please look again."
Though everything in the house seems to be in a conspiracy against him, it is perhaps with the fishing-tackle that he has most constant difficulties.
"My dear, have you any idea where my rod is? No, don't get up—I'll look if you'll just tell me where—"
"Probably in the corner behind the chest in the orchard room."
"I've looked there."
"Well, then, did you take it in from the wagon last night?"
"Yes, I remember doing it."
"What about the little attic? You might have put it up there to dry out."
"No. I took my wading boots up, but that was all."
"The dining-room? You came in that way."
He goes and returns. "Not there." I reflect deeply.
"Jonathan, are you sure it's not in that corner of the orchard room?"
"Yes, I'm sure; but I'll look again." He disappears, but in a moment I hear his voice calling, "No! Yours is here, but not mine."
I perceive that it is a case for me, and I get up. "You go and harness. I'll find it," I call.
There was a time when, under such conditions, I should have begun by hunting in all the unlikely places I could think of. Now I know better. I go straight to the corner of the orchard room. Then I call to Jonathan, just to relieve his mind.
"All right! I've found it."
"Here, in the orchard room."
"Where in the orchard room?"
"In the corner."
"The usual corner—back of the chest."
"The devil!" Then he comes back to put his head in at the door. "What are you laughing at?"
"Nothing. What are you talking about the devil for? Anyway, it isn't the devil; it's the brownie."
For there seems no doubt that the things he hunts for are possessed of supernatural powers; and the theory of a brownie in the house, with a special grudge against Jonathan, would perhaps best account for the way in which they elude his search but leap into sight at my approach. There is, to be sure, one other explanation, but it is one that does not suggest itself to him, or appeal to him when suggested by me, so there is no need to dwell upon it.
If it isn't the rod, it is the landing-net, which has hung itself on a nail a little to the left or right of the one he had expected to see it on; or his reel, which has crept into a corner of the tackle drawer and held a ball of string in front of itself to distract his vision; or a bunch of snell hooks, which, aware of its protective coloring, has snuggled up against the shady side of the drawer and tucked its pink-papered head underneath a gay pickerel-spoon.
Fishing-tackle is, clearly, "possessed," but in other fields Jonathan is not free from trouble. Finding anything on a bureau seems to offer peculiar obstacles. It is perhaps a big, black-headed pin that I want. "On the pincushion, Jonathan."
He goes, and returns with two sizes of safety-pins and one long hat-pin.
"No, dear, those won't do. A small, black-headed one—at least small compared with a hat-pin, large compared with an ordinary pin."
"Common or house pin?" he murmurs, quoting a friend's phrase.
"Do look again! I hate to drop this to go myself."
"When a man does a job, he gets his tools together first."
"Yes; but they say women shouldn't copy men, they should develop along their own lines. Please go."
He goes, and comes back. "You don't want fancy gold pins, I suppose?"
"No, no! Here, you hold this, and I'll go." I dash to the bureau. Sure enough, he is right about the cushion. I glance hastily about. There, in a little saucer, are a half-dozen of the sort I want. I snatch some and run back.
"Well, it wasn't in the cushion, I bet."
"No," I admit; "it was in a saucer just behind the cushion."
"You said cushion."
"I know. It's all right."
"Now, if you had said simply 'bureau,' I'd have looked in other places on it."
"Yes, you'd have looked in other places!" I could not forbear responding. There is, I grant, another side to this question. One evening when I went upstairs I found a partial presentation of it, in the form of a little newspaper clipping, pinned on my cushion. It read as follows:—
"My dear," said she, "please run and bring me the needle from the haystack."
"Oh, I don't know which haystack."
"Look in all the haystacks—you can't miss it; there's only one needle."
Jonathan was in the cellar at the moment. When he came up, he said, "Did I hear any one laughing?"
"I don't know. Did you?"
"I thought maybe it was you."
"It might have been. Something amused me—I forget what."
I accused Jonathan of having written it himself, but he denied it. Some other Jonathan, then; for, as I said, this is not a personal matter, it is a world matter. Let us grant, then, a certain allowance for those who hunt in woman-made haystacks. But what about pockets? Is not a man lord over his own pockets? And are they not nevertheless as so many haystacks piled high for his confusion? Certain it is that Jonathan has nearly as much trouble with his pockets as he does with the corners and cupboards and shelves and drawers of his house. It usually happens over our late supper, after his day in town. He sets down his teacup, struck with a sudden memory. He feels in his vest pockets—first the right, then the left. He proceeds to search himself, murmuring, "I thought something came to-day that I wanted to show you—oh, here! no, that isn't it. I thought I put it—no, those are to be—what's this? No, that's a memorandum. Now, where in—" He runs through the papers in his pockets twice over, and in the second round I watch him narrowly, and perhaps see a corner of an envelope that does not look like office work. "There, Jonathan! What's that? No, not that—that!"
He pulls it out with an air of immense relief. "There! I knew I had something. That's it."
When we travel, the same thing happens with the tickets, especially if they chance to be costly and complicated ones, with all the shifts and changes of our journey printed thick upon their faces. The conductor appears at the other end of the car. Jonathan begins vaguely to fumble without lowering his paper. Pocket after pocket is browsed through in this way. Then the paper slides to his knee and he begins a more thorough investigation, with all the characteristic clapping and diving motions that seem to be necessary. Some pockets must always be clapped and others dived into to discover their contents.
No tickets. The conductor is halfway up the car. Jonathan's face begins to grow serious. He rises and looks on the seat and under it. He sits down and takes out packet after packet of papers and goes over them with scrupulous care. At this point I used to become really anxious—to make hasty calculations as to our financial resources, immediate and ultimate—to wonder if conductors ever really put nice people like us off trains. But that was long ago. I know now that Jonathan has never lost a ticket in his life. So I glance through the paper that he has dropped or watch the landscape until he reaches a certain stage of calm and definite pessimism, when he says, "I must have pulled them out when I took out those postcards in the other car. Yes, that's just what has happened." Then, the conductor being only a few seats away, I beg Jonathan to look once more in his vest pocket, where he always puts them. To oblige me he looks, though without faith, and lo! this time the tickets fairly fling themselves upon him, with smiles almost curling up their corners. Does the brownie travel with us, then?
I begin to suspect that some of the good men who have been blamed for forgetting to mail letters in their pockets have been, not indeed blameless, but at least misunderstood. Probably they do not forget. Probably they hunt for the letters and cannot find them, and conclude that they have already mailed them.
In the matter of the home haystacks Jonathan's confidence in himself has at last been shaken. For a long time, when he returned to me after some futile search, he used to say, "Of course you can look for it if you like, but it is not there." But man is a reasoning, if not altogether a reasonable, being, and with a sufficient accumulation of evidence, especially when there is some one constantly at hand to interpret its teachings, almost any set of opinions, however fixed, may be shaken. So here.
Once when we shut up the farm for the winter I left my fountain pen behind. This was little short of a tragedy, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that Jonathan was going back that week-end for a day's hunt.
"Be sure to get the pen first of all," I said, "and put it in your pocket."
"Where is it?" he asked.
"In the little medicine cupboard over the fireplace in the orchard room, standing up at the side of the first shelf."
"Why not on your desk?" he asked.
"Because I was writing tags in there, and set it up so it would be out of the way."
"And it was out of the way. All right. I'll collect it."
He went, and on his return I met him with eager hand—"My pen!"
"I'm sorry," he began.
"You didn't forget!" I exclaimed.
"No. But it wasn't there."
"But—did you look?"
"Yes, I looked."
"Yes. I lit three matches."
"Matches! Then you didn't get it when you first got there!"
"Why—no—I had the dog to attend to—and—but I had plenty of time when I got back, and it wasn't there."
"Well—Dear me! Did you look anywhere else? I suppose I may be mistaken. Perhaps I did take it back to the desk."
"That's just what I thought myself," said Jonathan. "So I went there, and looked, and then I looked on all the mantelpieces and your bureau. You must have put it in your bag the last minute—bet it's there now!"
"Bet it isn't."
It wasn't. For two weeks more I was driven to using other pens—strange and distracting to the fingers and the eyes and the mind. Then Jonathan was to go up again.
"Please look once more," I begged, "and don't expect not to see it. I can fairly see it myself, this minute, standing up there on the right-hand side, just behind the machine oil can."
"Oh, I'll look," he promised. "If it's there, I'll find it."
He returned penless. I considered buying another. But we were planning to go up together the last week of the hunting season, and I thought I would wait on the chance.
We got off at the little station and hunted our way up, making great sweeps and jogs, as hunters must, to take in certain spots we thought promising—certain ravines and swamp edges where we are always sure of hearing the thunderous whir of partridge wings, or the soft, shrill whistle of woodcock. At noon we broiled chops and rested in the lee of the wood edge, where, even in the late fall, one can usually find spots that are warm and still. It was dusk by the time we came over the crest of the farm ledges and saw the huddle of the home buildings below us, and quite dark when we reached the house. Fires had been made and coals smouldered on the hearth in the sitting-room.
"You light the lamp," I said, "and I'll just take a match and go through to see if that pen should happen to be there."
"No use doing anything to-night," said Jonathan. "To-morrow morning you can have a thorough hunt."
But I took my match, felt my way into the next room, past the fireplace, up to the cupboard, then struck my match. In its first flare-up I glanced in. Then I chuckled.
Jonathan had gone out to the dining-room, but he has perfectly good ears.
"NO!" he roared, and his tone of dismay, incredulity, rage, sent me off into gales of unscrupulous laughter. He was striding in, candle in hand, shouting, "It was not there!"
"Look yourself," I managed to gasp.
This time, somehow, he could see it.
"You planted it! You brought it up and planted it!"
"I never! Oh, dear me! It pays for going without it for weeks!"
"Nothing will ever make me believe that that pen was standing there when I looked for it!" said Jonathan, with vehement finality.
"All right," I sighed happily. "You don't have to believe it."
But in his heart perhaps he does believe it. At any rate, since that time he has adopted a new formula: "My dear, it may be there, of course, but I don't see it." And this position I regard as unassailable.
One triumph he has had. I wanted something that was stored away in the shut-up town house.
"Do you suppose you could find it?" I said, as gently as possible.
"I can try," he said.
"I think it is in a box about this shape—see?—a gray box, in the attic closet, the farthest-in corner."
"Are you sure it's in the house? If it's in the house, I think I can find it."
"Yes, I'm sure of that."
When he returned that night, his face wore a look of satisfaction very imperfectly concealed beneath a mask of nonchalance.
"Good for you! Was it where I said?"
"Was it in a different corner?"
"Where was it?"
"It wasn't in a corner at all. It wasn't in that closet."
"It wasn't! Where, then?"
"Downstairs in the hall closet." He paused, then could not forbear adding, "And it wasn't in a gray box; it was in a big hat-box with violets all over it."
"Why, Jonathan! Aren't you grand! How did you ever find it? I couldn't have done better myself."
Under such praise he expanded. "The fact is," he said confidentially, "I had given it up. And then suddenly I changed my mind. I said to myself, 'Jonathan, don't be a man! Think what she'd do if she were here now.' And then I got busy and found it."
"Jonathan!" I could almost have wept if I had not been laughing.
"Well," he said, proud, yet rather sheepish, "what is there so funny about that? I gave up half a day to it."
"Funny! It isn't funny—exactly. You don't mind my laughing a little? Why, you've lived down the fountain pen—we'll forget the pen—"
"Oh, no, you won't forget the pen either," he said, with a certain pleasant grimness.
"Well, perhaps not—of course it would be a pity to forget that. Suppose I say, then, that we'll always regard the pen in the light of the violet hat-box?"
"I think that might do." Then he had an alarming afterthought. "But, see here—you won't expect me to do things like that often?"
"Dear me, no! People can't live always on their highest levels. Perhaps you'll never do it again." Jonathan looked distinctly relieved. "I'll accept it as a unique effort—like Dante's angel and Raphael's sonnet."
"Jonathan," I said that evening, "what do you know about St. Anthony of Padua?"
"Well, you ought to. He helped you to-day. He's the saint who helps people to find lost articles. Every man ought to take him as a patron saint."
"And do you know which saint it is who helps people to find lost virtues—like humility, for instance?"
"No. I don't, really."
"I didn't suppose you did," said Jonathan.
It was a little tree-toad that began it. In a careless moment he had come down to the bench that connects the big maple tree with the old locust stump, and when I went out at dusk to wait for Jonathan, there he sat, in plain sight. A few experimental pokes sent him back to the tree, and I studied him there, marveling at the way he assimilated with its bark. As Jonathan came across the grass I called softly, and pointed to the tree.
"Well?" he said.
"Don't you see?"
"Look—I thought you had eyes!"
"Oh, what a little beauty!"
"And isn't his back just like bark and lichens! And what are those things in the tree beside him?"
"Plugs, I suppose."
"Yes. After tapping. Uncle Ben used to tap these trees, I believe."
"You mean for sap? Maple syrup?"
"Jonathan! I didn't know these were sugar maples."
"Oh, yes. These on the road."
"The whole row? Why, there are ten or fifteen of them! And you never told me!"
"I thought you knew."
"Knew! I don't know anything—I should think you'd know that, by this time. Do you suppose, if I had known, I should have let all these years go by—oh, dear—think of all the fun we've missed! And syrup!"
"You'd have to come up in February."
"Well, then, I'll come in February. Who's afraid of February?"
"All right. Try it next year."
I did. But not in February. Things happened, as things do, and it was early April before I got to the farm. But it had been a wintry March, and the farmers told me that the sap had not been running except for a few days in a February thaw. Anyway, it was worth trying.
Jonathan could not come with me. He was to join me later. But Hiram found a bundle of elder spouts in the attic, and with these and an auger we went out along the snowy, muddy road. The hole was bored—a pair of them—in the first tree, and the spouts driven in. I knelt, watching—in fact, peering up the spout-hole to see what might happen. Suddenly a drop, dim with sawdust, appeared—gathered, hesitated, then ran down gayly and leapt off the end.
"Look! Hiram! It's running!" I called.
Hiram, boring the next tree, made no response. He evidently expected it to run. Jonathan would have acted just like that, too, I felt sure. Is it a masculine quality, I wonder, to be unmoved when the theoretically expected becomes actual? Or is it that some temperaments have naturally a certain large confidence in the sway of law, and refuse to wonder at its individual workings? To me the individual workings give an ever fresh thrill because they bring a new realization of the mighty powers behind them. It seems to depend on which end you begin at.
But though the little drops thrilled me, I was not beyond setting a pail underneath to catch them. And as Hiram went on boring, I followed with my pails. Pails, did I say? Pails by courtesy. There were, indeed, a few real pails—berry-pails, lard-pails, and water-pails—but for the most part the sap fell into pitchers, or tin saucepans, stew-kettles of aluminum or agate ware, blue and gray and white and mottled, or big yellow earthenware bowls. It was a strange collection of receptacles that lined the roadside when we had finished our progress. As I looked along the row, I laughed, and even Hiram smiled.
But what next? Every utensil in the house was out there, sitting in the road. There was nothing left but the wash-boiler. Now, I had heard tales of amateur syrup-boilings, and I felt that the wash-boiler would not do. Besides, I meant to work outdoors—no kitchen stove for me! I must have a pan, a big, flat pan. I flew to the telephone, and called up the village plumber, three miles away. Could he build me a pan? Oh, say, two feet by three feet, and five inches high—yes, right away. Yes, Hiram would call for it in the afternoon.
I felt better. And now for a fireplace! Oh, Jonathan! Why did you have to be away! For Jonathan loves a stone and knows how to put stones together, as witness the stone "Eyrie" and the stile in the lane. However, there Jonathan wasn't. So I went out into the swampy orchard behind the house and looked about—no lack of stones, at any rate. I began to collect material, and Hiram, seeing my purpose, helped with the big stones. Somehow my fireplace got made—two side walls, one end wall, the other end left open for stoking. It was not as pretty as if Jonathan had done it, but "'t was enough, 't would serve." I collected fire-wood, and there I was, ready for my pan, and the afternoon was yet young, and the sap was drip-drip-dripping from all the spouts. I could begin to boil next day. I felt that I was being borne along on the providential wave that so often floats the inexperienced to success.
That night I emptied all my vessels into the boiler and set them out once more. A neighbor drove by and pulled up to comment benevolently on my work.
"Will it run to-night?" I asked him.
"No—no—'t won't run to-night. Too cold. 'T won't run any to-night. You can sleep all right."
This was pleasant to hear. There was a moon, to be sure, but it was growing colder, and at the idea of crawling along that road in the middle of the night even my enthusiasm shivered a little.
So I made my rounds at nine, in the white moonlight, and went to sleep.
I was awakened the next morning to a consciousness of flooding sunshine and Hiram's voice outside my window.
"Got anything I can empty sap into? I've got everything all filled up."
"Sap! Why, it isn't running yet, is it?"
"Pails were flowin' over when I came out."
"Flowing over! They said the sap wouldn't run last night."
"I guest there don't nobody know when sap'll run and when it won't," said Hiram peacefully, as he tramped off to the barn.
In a few minutes I was outdoors. Sure enough, Hiram had everything full—old boilers, feed-pails, water-pails. But we found some three-gallon milk-cans and used them. A farm is like a city. There are always things enough in it for all purposes. It is only a question of using its resources.
Then, in the clear April sunshine, I went out and surveyed the row of maples. How they did drip! Some of them almost ran. I felt as if I had turned on the faucets of the universe and didn't know how to turn them off again.
However, there was my new pan. I set it over my oven walls and began to pour in sap. Hiram helped me. He seemed to think he needed his feed-pails. We poured in sap and we poured in sap. Never did I see anything hold so much as that pan. Even Hiram was stirred out of his usual calm to remark, "It beats all, how much that holds." Of course Jonathan would have had its capacity all calculated the day before, but my methods are empirical, and so I was surprised as well as pleased when all my receptacles emptied themselves into its shallow breadths and still there was a good inch to allow for boiling up. Yes, Providence—my exclusive little fool's Providence—was with me. The pan, and the oven, were a success, and when Jonathan came that night I led him out with unconcealed pride and showed him the pan—now a heaving, frothing mass of sap-about-to-be-syrup, sending clouds of white steam down the wind. As he looked at the oven walls, I fancied his fingers ached to get at them, but he offered no criticism, seeing that they worked.
The next day began overcast, but Providence was merely preparing for me a special little gift in the form of a miniature snowstorm. It was quite real while it lasted. It whitened the grass and the road, it piled itself softly among the clusters of swelling buds on the apple trees, and made the orchard look as though it had burst into bloom in an hour. Then the sun came out, there were a few dazzling moments when the world was all blue and silver, and then the whiteness faded.
And the sap! How it dripped! Once an hour I had to make the rounds, bringing back gallons each time, and the fire under my pan was kept up so that the boiling down might keep pace with the new supply.
"They do say snow makes it run," shouted a passer-by, and another called, "You want to keep skimmin'!" Whereupon I seized my long-handled skimmer and fell to work. Southern Connecticut does not know much about syrup, but by the avenue of the road I was gradually accumulating such wisdom as it possessed.
The syrup was made. No worse accident befell than the occasional overflowing of a pail too long neglected. The syrup was made, and bottled, and distributed to friends, and was the pride of the household through the year.
* * * * *
"This time I will go early," I said to Jonathan; "they say the late running is never quite so good."
It was early March when I got up there this time—early March after a winter whose rigor had known practically no break. Again Jonathan could not come, but Cousin Janet could, and we met at the little station, where Hiram was waiting with Kit and the surrey. The sun was warm, but the air was keen and the woods hardly showed spring at all yet, even in that first token of it, the slight thickening of their millions of little tips, through the swelling of the buds. The city trees already showed this, but the country ones still kept their wintry penciling of vanishing lines.
Spring was in the road, however. "There ain't no bottom to this road now, it's just dropped clean out," remarked a fellow teamster as we wallowed along companionably through the woods. But, somehow, we reached the farm. Again we bored our holes, and again I was thrilled as the first bright drops slipped out and jeweled the ends of the spouts. I watched Janet. She was interested but calm, classing herself at once with Hiram and Jonathan. We unearthed last year's oven and dug out its inner depths—leaves and dirt and apples and ashes—it was like excavating through the seven Troys to get to bottom. We brought down the big pan, now clothed in the honors of a season's use, and cleaned off the cobwebs incident to a year's sojourn in the attic. By sunset we had a panful of sap boiling merrily and already taking on a distinctly golden tinge. We tasted it. It was very syrupy. Letting the fire die down, we went in to get supper in the utmost content of spirit.
"It's so much simpler than last year," I said, as we sat over our cozy "tea,"—"having the pan and the oven ready-made, and all—"
"You don't suppose anything could happen to it while we're in here?" suggested Janet. "Shan't I just run out and see?"
"No, sit still. What could happen? The fire's going out."
"Yes, I know." But her voice was uncertain.
"You see, I've been all through it once," I reassured her.
As we rose, Janet said, "Let's go out before we do the dishes." And to humor her I agreed. We lighted the lantern and stepped out on the back porch. It was quite dark, and as we looked off toward the fireplace we saw gleams of red.
"How funny!" I murmured. "I didn't think there was so much fire left."
We felt our way over, through the yielding mud of the orchard, and as I raised the lantern we stared in dazed astonishment. The pan was a blackened mass, lit up by winking red eyes of fire. I held the lantern more closely. I seized a stick and poked—the crisp black stuff broke and crumbled into an empty and blackening pan. A curious odor arose.
"It couldn't have!" gasped Janet.
"It couldn't—but it has!" I said.
It was a matter for tears, or rage, or laughter. And laughter won. When we recovered a little we took up the black shell of carbon that had once been syrup-froth; we laid it gently beside the oven, for a keepsake. Then we poured water in the pan, and steam rose hissing to the stars.
"Does it leak?" faltered Janet.
"Leak!" I said. I was on my knees now, watching the water stream through the parted seam of the pan bottom, down into the ashes below.
"The question is," I went on as I got up, "did it boil away because it leaked, or did it leak because it boiled away?"
"I don't see that it matters much," said Janet. She was showing symptoms of depression at this point.
"It matters a great deal," I said. "Because, you see, we've got to tell Jonathan, and it makes all the difference how we put it."
"I see," said Janet; then she added, experimentally, "Why tell Jonathan?"
"Why, Janet, you know better! I wouldn't miss telling Jonathan for anything. What is Jonathan for!"
"Well—of course," she conceded. "Let's do dishes."
We sat before the fire that evening and I read while Janet knitted. Between my eyes and the printed page there kept rising a vision—a vision of black crust, with winking red embers smoldering along its broken edges. I found it distracting in the extreme.…
At some time unknown, out of the blind depths of the night, I was awakened by a voice:—
"It's beginning to rain. I think I'll just go out and empty what's near the house."
"Janet!" I murmured, "don't be absurd."
"But it will dilute all that sap."
"There isn't any sap to dilute. It won't be running at night." After a while the voice, full of propitiatory intonations, resumed:—
"My dear, you don't mind if I slip out. It will only take a minute."
"I do mind. Go to sleep!"
"It's raining harder. I hate to think of all that sap—"
"You don't have to think!" I was quite savage. "Just go to sleep—and let me!" Another silence. Then a fresh downpour. The voice was pleading:—
"Please let me go! I'll be back in a minute. And it's not cold."
"Oh, well—I'm awake now, anyway. I'll go." My voice was tinged with that high resignation that is worse than anger. Janet's tone changed instantly:—
"No, no! Don't! Please don't! I'm going. I truly don't mind."
"I'm going. I don't mind, either, not at all."
"Oh, dear! Then let's not either of us go."
"That was my idea in the first place."
"Well, then, we won't. Go to sleep, and I will too."
"Not at all! I've decided to go."
"But it's stopped raining. Probably it won't rain any more."
"Then what are you making all this fuss for?"
"I didn't make a fuss. I just thought I could slip out—"
"Well, you couldn't. And it's raining very hard again. And I'm going."
"Oh, don't! You'll get drenched."
"Of course. But I can't bear to have all that sap diluted."
"It doesn't run at night. You said it didn't."
"You said it did."
"But I don't really know. You know best."
"Why didn't you think of that sooner? Anyway, I'm going."
"Oh, dear! You make me feel as if I'd stirred you up—"
"You have," I interrupted, sweetly. "I won't deny that you have stirred me up. But now that you have mentioned it"—I felt for a match—"now that you have mentioned it, I see that this was the one thing needed to make my evening complete, or perhaps it's morning—I don't know."
We found the dining-room warm, and soon we were equipped in those curious compromises of vesture that people adopt under such circumstances, and, with lantern and umbrella, we fumbled our way out to the trees. The rain was driving in sheets, and we plodded up the road in the yellow circle of lantern-light wavering uncertainly over the puddles, while under our feet the mud gave and sucked.
"It's diluted, sure enough," I said, as we emptied the pails. We crawled slowly back, with our heavy milk-can full of sap-and-rain-water, and went in.
The warm dining-room was pleasant to return to, and we sat down to cookies and milk, feeling almost cozy.
"I've always wanted to know how it would be to go out in the middle of the night this way," I remarked, "and now I know."
"Aren't you hateful!" said Janet.
"Not at all. Just appreciative. But now, if you haven't any other plan, we'll go back to bed."
It was half-past eight when we waked next morning. But there was nothing to wake up for. The old house was filled with the rain-noises that only such an old house knows. On the little windows the drops pricked sharply; in the fireplace with the straight flue they fell, hissing, on the embers. On the porch roofs the rain made a dull patter of sound; on the tin roof of the "little attic" over the kitchen it beat with flat resonance. In the big attic, when we went up to see if all was tight, it filled the place with a multitudinous clamor; on the sides of the house it drove with a fury that re-echoed dimly within doors.
Outside, everything was afloat. We visited the trees and viewed with consternation the torrents of rain-water pouring into the pails. We tried fastening pans over the spouts to protect them. The wind blew them merrily down the road. It would have been easy enough to cover the pails, but how to let the sap drip in and the rain drip out—that was the question.
"It seems as if there was a curse on the syrup this year," said Janet.
"The trouble is," I said, "I know just enough to have lost my hold on the fool's Providence, and not enough really to take care of myself."
"Superstition!" said Janet.
"What do you call your idea of the curse?" I retorted. "Anyway, I have an idea! Look, Janet! We'll just cut up these enamel-cloth table-covers here by the sink and everywhere, and tack them around the spouts."
Janet's thrifty spirit was doubtful. "Don't you need them?"
"Not half so much as the trees do. Come on! Pull them off. We'll have to have fresh ones this summer, anyway."
We stripped the kitchen tables and the pantry and the milk-room. We got tacks and a hammer and scissors, and out we went again. We cut a piece for each tree, just enough to go over each pair of spouts and protect the pail. When tacked on, it had the appearance of a neat bib, and as the pattern was a blue and white check, the effect, as one looked down the road at the twelve trees, was very fresh and pleasing. It seemed to cheer the people who drove by, too.
But the bibs served their purpose, and the sap dripped cozily into the pails without any distraction from alien elements. Sap doesn't run in the rain, they say, but this sap did. Probably Hiram was right, and you can't tell. I am glad if you can't. The physical mysteries of the universe are being unveiled so swiftly that one likes to find something that still keeps its secret—though, indeed, the spiritual mysteries seem in no danger of such enforcement.
The next day the rain stopped, the floods began to subside, and Jonathan managed to arrive, though the roads had even less "bottom to 'em" than before. The sun blazed out, and the sap ran faster, and, after Jonathan had fully enjoyed them, the blue and white bibs were taken off. Somehow in the clear March sunshine they looked almost shocking. By the next day we had syrup enough to try for sugar.
For on sugar my heart was set. Syrup was all very well for the first year, but now it had to be sugar. Moreover, as I explained to Janet, when it came to sugar, being absolutely ignorant, I was again in a position to expect the aid of the fool's Providence.
"How much do you know about it?" asked Janet.
"Oh, just what people say. It seems to be partly like fudge and partly like molasses candy. You boil it, and then you beat it, and then you pour it off."
"I've got more to go on than that," said Jonathan. "I came up on the train with the Judge. He used to see it done."
"You've got to drive Janet over to her train to-night; Hiram can't," I said.
"All right. There's time enough."
We sat down to early supper, and took turns running out to the kitchen to "try" the syrup as it boiled down. At least we said we would take turns, but usually we all three went. Supper seemed distinctly a side issue.
"I'm going to take it off now," said Jonathan. "Look out!"
"Do you think it's time?" I demurred.
"We'll know soon," said Jonathan, with his usual composure.
We hung over him. "Now you beat it," I said. But he was already beating.
"Get some cold water to set it in," he commanded. We brought the dishpan with water from the well, where ice still floated.
"Maybe you oughtn't to stir so much—do you think?" I suggested, helpfully. "Beat it more—up, you know."
"More the way you would eggs," said Janet.
"I'll show you." I lunged at the spoon.
"Go away! This isn't eggs," said Jonathan, beating steadily.
"Your arm must be tired. Let me take it," pleaded Janet.
"No, me!" I said. "Janet, you've got to get your coat and things. You'll have to start in fifteen minutes. Here, Jonathan, you need a fresh arm."
"I'm fresh enough."
"And I really don't think you have the motion."
"I have motion enough. This is my job. You go and help Janet."
"Janet's all right."
"So am I. See how white it's getting. The Judge said—"
"Here come Hiram and Kit," announced Janet, returning with bag and wraps. "But you have ten minutes. Can't I help?"
"He won't let us. He's that 'sot,'" I murmured. "He'll make you miss your train."
"You could butter the pans," he counter charged, "and you haven't."
We flew to prepare, and the pouring began. It was a thrilling moment. The syrup, or sugar, now a pale hay color, poured out thickly, blob-blob-blob, into the little pans. Janet moved them up as they were needed, and I snatched the spoon, at last, and encouraged the stuff to fall where it should. But Jonathan got it from me again, and scraped out the remnant, making designs of clovers and polliwogs on the tops of the cakes. Then a dash for coats and hats and a rush to the carriage.
When the surrey disappeared around the turn of the road, I went back, shivering, to the house. It seemed very empty, as houses will, being sensitive things. I went to the kitchen. There on the table sat a huddle of little pans, to cheer me, and I fell to work getting things in order to be left in the morning. Then I went back to the fire and waited for Jonathan. I picked up a book and tried to read, but the stillness of the house was too importunate, it had to be listened to. I leaned back and watched the fire, and the old house and I held communion together.
Perhaps in no other way is it possible to get quite what I got that evening. It was partly my own attitude; I was going away in the morning, and I had, in a sense, no duties toward the place. The magazines of last fall lay on the tables, the newspapers of last fall lay beside them. The dust of last fall was, doubtless, in the closets and on the floors. It did not matter. For though I was the mistress of the house, I was for the moment even more its guest, and guests do not concern themselves with such things as these.
If it had been really an empty house, I should have been obliged to think of these things, for in an empty house the dust speaks and the house is still, dumbly imprisoned in its own past. On the other hand, when a house is filled with life, it is still, too; it is absorbed in its own present. But when one sojourns in a house that is merely resting, full of the life that has only for a brief season left it, ready for the life that is soon to return—then one is in the midst of silences that are not empty and hollow, but richly eloquent. The house is the link that joins and interprets the living past and the living future.
Something of this I came to feel as I sat there in the wonderful stillness. There were no house noises such as generally form the unnoticed background of one's consciousness—the steps overhead, the distant voices, the ticking of the clock, the breathing of the dog in the corner. Even the mice and the chimney-swallows had not come back, and I missed the scurrying in the walls and the flutter of wings in the chimney. The fire purred low, now and then the wind sighed gently about the corner of the "new part," and a loose door-latch clicked as the draught shook it. A branch drew back and forth across a window-pane with the faintest squeak. And little by little the old house opened its heart. All that it told me I hardly yet know myself. It gathered up for me all its past, the past that I had known and the past that I had not known. Time fell away. My own importance dwindled. I seemed a very small part of the life of the house—very small, yet wholly belonging to it. I felt that it absorbed me as it absorbed the rest—those before and after me—for time was not.
There was the sound of slow wheels outside, the long roll of the carriage-house door, and the trampling of hoofs on the flooring within. Then the clinking of the lantern and the even tread of feet on the path behind the house, a gust of raw snow-air—and the house fell silent so that Jonathan might come in.
"Your sugar is hardening nicely, I see," he said, rubbing his hands before the fire.
"Yes," I said. "You know I told Janet that for this part of the affair we could trust to the fool's Providence."
"Thank you," said Jonathan.
Evenings on the Farm
I'm going out to clean the pasture spring; I'll only stop to rake the leaves away (And wait to watch the water clear, I may); I shan't be gone long.—You come too.
I'm going out to fetch the little calf That's standing by the mother. It's so young, It totters when she licks it with her tongue. I shan't be gone long.—You come too.
When we first planned to take up the farm we looked forward with especial pleasure to our evenings. They were to be the quiet rounding-in of our days, full of companionship, full of meditation. "We'll do lots of reading aloud," I said. "And we'll have long walks. There won't be much to do but walk and read. I can hardly wait." And I chose our summer books with special reference to reading aloud.
"Of course," I said, as we fell to work at our packing, "we'll have to do all sorts of things first. But the days are so long up there, and the life is very simple. And in the evenings you'll help. We ought to be settled in a week."
"Or two—or three," suggested Jonathan.
"Three! What is there to do?"
"Farm-life isn't so blamed simple as you think."
"But what is there to do? Now, listen! One day for trunks, one day for boxes and barrels, one day for closets, that's three, one for curtains, four, one day for—for the garret, that's five. Well—one day for odds and ends that I haven't thought of. That's liberal, I'm sure."
"Better say the rest of your life for the odds and ends you haven't thought of," said Jonathan, as he drove the last nail in a neatly headed barrel.
"Jonathan, why are you such a pessimist?"
"I'm not, except when you're such an optimist."
"If I'd begun by saying it would take a month, would you have said a week?"
"Can't tell. Might have."
"Anyway, there's nothing bad about odds and ends. They're about all women have much to do with most of their lives."
"That's what I said. And you called me a pessimist."
"I didn't call you one. I said, why were you one."
"I'm sorry. My mistake," said Jonathan with the smile of one who scores.
* * * * *
And so we went.
One day for trunks was all right. Any one can manage trunks. And the second day, the boxes were emptied and sent flying out to the barn. Curtains I decided to keep for evening work, while Jonathan read. That left the closets and the attic, or rather the attics, for there was one over the main house and one over the "new part,"—still "new," although now some seventy years old. They were known as the attic and the little attic. I thought I would do the closets first, and I began with the one in the parlor. This was built into the chimney, over the fireplace. It was low, and as long as the mantelpiece itself. It had two long shelves shut away behind three glass doors through which the treasures within were dimly visible. When I swung these open it felt like opening a tomb—cold, musty air hung about my face. I brushed it aside, and considered where to begin. It was a depressing collection. There were photographs and photographs, some in frames, the rest of them tied up in packages or lying in piles. A few had names or messages written on the back, but most gave no clue; and all of them gazed out at me with that expression of complete respectability that constitutes so impenetrable a mask for the personality behind. Most of us wear such masks, but the older photographers seem to have been singularly successful in concentrating attention on them. Then there were albums, with more photographs, of people and of "views." There was a big Bible, some prayer-books, and a few other books elaborately bound with that heavy fancifulness that we are learning to call Victorian. One of these was on "The Wonders of the Great West"; another was about "The Female Saints of America." I took it down and glanced through it, but concluded that one had to be a female saint, or at least an aspirant, to appreciate it. Then there were things made out of dried flowers, out of hair, out of shells, out of pine-cones. There were vases and other ornamental bits of china and glass, also Victorian, looking as if they were meant to be continually washed or dusted by the worn, busy fingers of the female saints. As I came to fuller realization of all these relics, my resolution flickered out and there fell upon me a strange numbness of spirit. I seemed under a spell of inaction. Everything behind those glass doors had been cherished too long to be lightly thrown away, yet was not old enough to be valuable nor useful enough to keep. I spent a long day—one of the longest days of my life—browsing through the books, trying to sort the photographs, and glancing through a few old letters. I did nothing in particular with anything, and in the late afternoon I roused myself, put them all back, and shut the glass doors. I had nothing to show for my day's experience except a deep little round ache in the back of my neck and a faint brassy taste in my mouth. I complained of it to Jonathan later.
"It always tasted just that way to me when I was a boy," he said, "but I never thought much about it—I thought it was just a closet-taste."
"And it isn't only the taste," I went on. "It does something to me, to my state of mind. I'm afraid to try the garret."
"Garrets are different," said Jonathan. "But I'd leave them. They can wait."
"They've waited a good while, of course," I said.
And so we left the garrets. We came back to them later, and were glad we had done so. But that is a story by itself.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, in the evenings, Jonathan helped.
"I'm afraid you were more or less right about the odd jobs," I admitted one night. "They do seem to accumulate." I was holding a candle while he set up a loose latch.
"They've been accumulating a good many years," said Jonathan.
"Yes, that's it. And so the doors all stick, and the latches won't latch, and the shades are sulky or wild, and the pantry shelves—have you noticed?—they're all warped so they rock when you set a dish on them."
"And the chairs pull apart," added Jonathan.
"Yes. Of course after we catch up we'll be all right."
"I wouldn't count too much on catching up."
"Why not?" I asked.
"The farm has had a long start."
"But you're a Yankee," I argued; "the Yankee nature fairly feeds on such jobs—'putter jobs,' you know."
"Yes, I know."
"Only, of course, you get on faster if you're not too particular about having the exact tool—"
Considered as a Yankee, Jonathan's only fault is that when he does a job he likes to have a very special tool to do it with. Often it is so special that I have never heard its name before and then I consider he is going too far. He merely thinks I haven't gone far enough. Perhaps such matters must always remain matters of opinion. But even with this handicap we did begin to catch up, and we could have done this a good deal faster if it had not been for the pump.
The pump was a clear case of new wine in an old bottle. It was large and very strong. The people who worked it were strong too. But the walls and floor to which it was attached were not strong at all. And so, one night, when Jonathan wanted a walk I was obliged instead to suggest the pump.
"What's the matter there?"
"Why, it seems to have pulled clear of its moorings. You look at it."
He looked, with that expression of meditative resourcefulness peculiar to the true Yankee countenance. "H'm—needs new wood there,—and there; that stuff'll never hold." And so the old bottle was patched with new skin at the points of strain, and in the zest of reconstruction Jonathan almost forgot to regret the walk. "We'll have it to-morrow night," he said: "the moon will be better."
The next evening I met him below the turn of the road. "Wonderful night it's going to be," he said, as he pushed his wheel up the last hill.
"Yes—" I said, a little uneasily. I was thinking of the kitchen pump. Finally I brought myself to face it.
"There seems to be some trouble—with the pump," I said apologetically. I felt that it was my fault, though I knew it wasn't.
"More trouble? What sort of trouble?"
"Oh, it wheezes and makes funny sucking noises, and the water spits and spits, and then bursts out, and then doesn't come at all. It sounds a little like a cat with a bone in its throat."
"Probably just that," said Jonathan: "grain of sand in the valve, very likely."
"Shall I get a plumber?"
"Plumber! I'll fix it myself in three shakes of a lamb's tail."
"Well," I said, relieved: "you can do that after supper while I see that all the chickens are in, and those turkeys, and then we'll have our walk."
Accordingly I went off on my tour. When I returned the pale moon-shadows were already beginning to show in the lingering dusk of the fading daylight. Indoors seemed very dark, but on the kitchen floor a candle sat, flaring and dipping.
"Jonathan," I called, "I'm ready."
"Well, I'm not," said a voice at my feet.
"Why, where are you? Oh, there!" I bent down and peered under the sink at a shape crouched there. "Haven't you finished?"
"Finished! I've just got the thing apart."
"I should say you had!" I regarded the various pieces of iron and leather and wood as they lay, mere dismembered shapes, about the dim kitchen.
"It doesn't seem as if it would ever come together again—to be a pump," I said in some depression.
"Oh, that's easy! It's just a question of time."
"How much time?"
"Was it the valve?"
"It was—several things."
His tone had the vagueness born of concentration. I could see that this was no time to press for information. Besides, in the field of mechanics, as Jonathan has occasionally pointed out to me, I am rather like a traveler who has learned to ask questions in a foreign tongue, but not to understand the answers.
"Well, I'll bring my sewing out here—or would you rather have me read to you? There's something in the last number of—"
"No—get your sewing—blast that screw! Why doesn't it start?"
Evidently sewing was better than the last number of anything. I settled myself under a lamp, while Jonathan, in the twilight beneath the sink, continued his mystic rites, with an accompaniment of mildly vituperative or persuasive language, addressed sometimes to his tools, sometimes to the screws and nuts and other parts, sometimes against the men who made them or the plumbers who put them in. Now and then I held a candle, or steadied some perverse bit of metal while he worked his will upon it. And at last the phoenix did indeed rise, the pump was again a pump,—at least it looked like one.
"Suppose it doesn't work," I suggested.
"Suppose it does," said Jonathan.
He began to pump furiously. "Pour in water there!" he directed. "Keep on pouring—don't stop—never mind if she does spout." I poured and he pumped, and there were the usual sounds of a pump resuming activity: gurglings and spittings, suckings and sudden spoutings; but at last it seemed to get its breath—a few more long strokes of the handle, and the water poured.
"What time is it?" he asked.
"Oh, fairly late—about ten—ten minutes past."
Instead of our walk, we stood for a moment under the big maples before the house and looked out into a sea of moonlight. It silvered the sides of the old gray barns and washed over the blossoming apple trees beyond the house. Is there anything more sweetly still than the stillness of moonlight over apple blossoms! As we went out to the barns to lock up, even the little hencoops looked poetic. Passing one of them, we half roused the feathered family within and heard muffled peepings and a smothered clk-clk. Jonathan was by this time so serene that I felt I could ask him a question that had occurred to me.
"Jonathan, how long is three shakes of a lamb's tail?"
"Apparently, my dear, it is the whole evening," he answered unruffled.
The next night was drizzly. Well, we would have books instead of a walk. We lighted a fire, May though it was, and settled down before it. "What shall we read?" I asked, feeling very cozy.
Jonathan was filling his pipe with a leisurely deliberation good to look upon. With the match in his hand he paused—"Oh, I meant to tell you—those young turkeys of yours—they were still out when I came through the yard. I wonder if they went in all right."
I have always noticed that if the turkeys grow up very fat and strutty and suggestive of Thanksgiving, Jonathan calls them "our turkeys," but in the spring, when they are committing all the naughtinesses of wild and silly youth, he is apt to allude to them as "those young turkeys of yours."
I rose wearily. "No. They never go in all right when they get out at this time—especially on wet nights. I'll have to find them and stow them."
Jonathan got up, too, and laid down his pipe. "You'll need the lantern," he said.
We went out together into the May drizzle—a good thing to be out in, too, if you are out for the fun of it. But when you are hunting silly little turkeys who literally don't know enough to go in when it rains, and when you expected and wanted to be doing something else, then it seems different, the drizzle seems peculiarly drizzly, the silliness of the turkeys seems particularly and unendurably silly.
We waded through the drenched grass and the tall, dripping weeds, listening for the faint, foolish peeping of the wanderers. Some we found under piled fence rails, some under burdock leaves, some under nothing more protective than a plantain leaf. By ones and twos we collected them, half drowned yet shrilly remonstrant, and dropped them into the dry shed where they belonged. Then we returned to the house, very wet, feeling the kind of discouragement that usually besets those who are forced to furnish prudence to fools.
"Nine o'clock," said Jonathan, "and we're too wet to sit down. If you could just shut in those turkeys on wet days—"
"Shut them in! Didn't I shut them in! They must have got out since four o'clock."
"Isn't the shed tight?" he asked.
"Chicken-tight, but not turkey-tight, apparently. Nothing is turkey-tight."
"They're bigger than chickens."
"Not in any one spot they aren't. They're like coiled wire—when they stretch out to get through a crack they have no dimension except length, their bodies are mere imaginary points to hang feathers on. You don't know little turkeys."
It might be said that, having undertaken to raise turkeys, we had to expect them to act like turkeys. But there were other interruptions in our evenings where our share of responsibility was not so plain. For example, one wet evening in early June we had kindled a little fire and I had brought the lamp forward. The pump was quiescent, the little turkeys were all tucked up in the turkey equivalent for bed, the farm seemed to be cuddling down into itself for the night. We sat for a moment luxuriously regarding the flames, listening to the sighing of the wind, feeling the sweet damp air as it blew in through the open windows. I was considering which book it should be and at last rose to possess myself of two or three.
"Sh—h—h!" said Jonathan, a warning finger raised.
I stood listening.
"I don't hear anything," I said.
"Sh—h!" he repeated. "There!"
This time, indeed, I heard faint bird-notes.
"Young robins!" He sprang up and made for the back door with long strides.
I peered out through the window of the orchard room, but saw only the reflection of the firelight and the lamp. Suddenly I heard Jonathan whistle and I ran to the back porch. Blackness pressed against my eyes.
"Where are you?" I called into it.
The whistle again, quite near me, apparently out of the air.
"Bring a lantern," came a whisper.
I got it and came back and down the steps to the path, holding up my light and peering about in search of the voice.
"Where are you? I can't see you at all."
"Right here—look—here—up!" The voice was almost over my head.
I searched the dark masses of the tree—oh, yes! the lantern revealed the heel of a shoe in a crotch, and above,—yes, undoubtedly, the rest of Jonathan, stretched out along a limb.
"Oh! What are you doing up there?"
"Get me a long stick—hoe—clothes-pole—anything I can poke with. Quick! The cat's up here. I can hear her, but I can't see her."
I found the rake and reached it up to him. From the dark beyond him came a distressed mew.
"Now the lantern. Hang it on the teeth." He drew it up to him, then, rake in one hand and lantern in the other, proceeded to squirm out along the limb.
"Now I see her."
I saw her too—a huddle of yellow, crouched close.
"I'll have her in a minute. She'll either have to drop or be caught."
And in fact this distressing dilemma was already becoming plain to the marauder herself. Her mewings grew louder and more frequent. A few more contortions brought the climber nearer his victim. A little judicious urging with the rake and she was within reach. The rake came down to me, and a long, wild mew announced that Jonathan had clutched.
"I don't see how you're going to get down," I said, mopping the rain-mist out of my eyes.
"Watch me," panted the contortionist.
I watched a curious mass descend the tree, the lantern, swinging and jerking, fitfully illumined the pair, and I could see, now a knee and an ear, now a hand and a yellow furry shape, now a white collar, nose, and chin. There was a last, long, scratching slide. I snatched the lantern, and Jonathan stood beside me, holding by the scruff of her neck a very much frazzled yellow cat. We returned to the porch where her victims were—one alive, in a basket, two dead, beside it, and Jonathan, kneeling, held the cat's nose close to the little bodies while he boxed her ears—once, twice; remonstrant mews rose wild, and with a desperate twist the culprit backed out under his arm and leaped into the blackness.
"Don't believe she'll eat young robin for a day or two," said Jonathan.
"Is that what they were? Where were they?"
"Under the tree. She'd knocked them out."
"Could you put this one back? He seems all right—only sort of naked in spots."
"We'll half cover the basket and hang it in the tree. His folks'll take care of him."
Next morning early there began the greatest to-do among the robins in the orchard. They shrieked their comments on the affair at the top of their lungs. They screamed abusively at Jonathan and me as we stood watching. "They say we did it!" said Jonathan. "I call that gratitude!"
I wish I could record that from that evening the cat was a reformed character. An impression had indeed been made. All next day she stayed under the porch, two glowing eyes in the dark. The second day she came out, walking indifferent and debonair, as cats do. But when Jonathan took down the basket from the tree and made her smell of it, she flattened her ears against her head and shot under the porch again.
But lessons grow dim and temptation is freshly importunate. It was not two weeks before Jonathan was up another tree on the same errand, and when I considered the number of nests in our orchard, and the number of cats—none of them really our cats—on the place, I felt that the position of overruling Providence was almost more than we could undertake, if we hoped to do anything else.
* * * * *
These things—tinkering of latches and chairs, pump-mending, rescue work in the orchard and among the poultry—filled our evenings fairly full. Yet these are only samples, and not particularly representative samples either. They were the sort of things that happened oftenest, the common emergencies incidental to the life. But there were also the uncommon emergencies, each occurring seldom but each adding its own touch of variety to the tale of our evenings.
For instance, there was the time of the great drought, when Jonathan, coming in from a tour of the farm at dusk, said, "I've got to go up and dig out the spring-hole across the swamp. Everything else is dry, and the cattle are getting crazy."
"Can I help?" I asked, not without regrets for our books and our evening—it was a black night, and I had had hopes.
"Yes. Come and hold the lantern."
We went. The spring-hole had been trodden by the poor, eager creatures into a useless jelly of mud. Jonathan fell to work, while I held the lantern high. But soon it became more than a mere matter of holding the lantern. There was a crashing in the blackness about us and a huge horned head emerged behind my shoulder, another loomed beyond Jonathan's stooping bulk.
"Keep 'em back," he said. "They'll have it all trodden up again—Hi! You! Ge' back 'ere!" There is as special a lingo for talking to cattle as there is for talking to babies. I used it as well as I could. I swung the lantern in their faces, I brandished the hoe-handle at them, I jabbed at them recklessly. They snorted and backed and closed in again,—crazy, poor things, with the smell of the water. It was an evening's battle for us. Jonathan dug and dug, and then laid rails, and the precious water filled in slowly, grew to a dark pool, and the thirsty creatures panted and snuffed in the dark just outside the radius of the hoe-handle, until at last we could let them in. I had forgotten my books, for we had come close to the earth and the creatures of the earth. The cows were our sisters and the steers our brothers that night.
Sometimes the emergency was in the barn—a broken halter and trouble among the horses, or perhaps a new calf. Sometimes a stray creature,—cow or horse,—grazing along the roadside, got into our yard and threatened our corn and squashes and my poor, struggling flower-beds. Once it was a break in the wire fence around Jonathan's muskmelon patch in the barn meadow. The cows had just been turned in, and if it wasn't mended that evening it meant no melons that season, also melon-tainted cream for days.
Once or twice each year it was the drainpipe from the sink. The drain, like the pump, was an innovation. Our ancestors had always carried out whatever they couldn't use or burn, and dumped it on the far edge of the orchard. In a thinly settled community, there is much to be said for this method: you know just where you are. But we had the drain, and occasionally we didn't know just where we were.
"Coffee grounds," Jonathan would suggest, with a touch of sternness.
"No," I would reply firmly; "coffee grounds are always burned."
"Don't know. I've poked and poked."
A gleam in the corner of Jonathan's eye—"What with?"
"Yes, I suppose so. For instance what?"
"Why—hair-pin first, of course, and then scissors, and then button-hook—you needn't smile. Button-hooks are wonderful for cleaning out pipes. And then I took a pail-handle and straightened it out—" Jonathan was laughing by this time—"Well, I have to use what I have, don't I?"
"Yes, of course. And after the pail-handle?"
"After that—oh, yes. I tried your cleaning-rod."
"The devil you did!"
"Not at all. It wasn't hurt a bit. It just wouldn't go down, that's all. So then I thought I'd wait for you."
"And now what do you expect?"
"I expect you to fix it."
Of course, after that, there was nothing for Jonathan to do but fix it. Usually it did not take long. Sometimes it did. Once it took a whole evening, and required the services of a young tree, which Jonathan went out and cut and trimmed and forced through a section of the pipe which he had taken up and laid out for the operation on the kitchen floor. It was a warm evening, too, and friends had driven over to visit us. We received them warmly in the kitchen. We explained that we believed in making them members of the family, and that members of the family always helped in whatever was being done. So they helped. They took turns gripping the pipe while Jonathan and I persuaded the young tree through it. It required great strength and some skill because it was necessary to make the tree and the pipe perform spirally rotatory movements each antagonistic and complementary to the other. We were all rather tired and very hot before anything began to happen. Then it happened all at once: the tree burst through—and not alone. A good deal came with it. The kitchen floor was a sight, and there was—undoubtedly there was—a strong smell of coffee. Jonathan smiled. Then he went down cellar and restored the pipe to its position, while the rest of us cleared up the kitchen,—it's astonishing what a little job like that can make a kitchen look like,—and as our friends started to go a voice from beneath us, like the ghost in "Hamlet," shouted, "Hold 'em! There's half a freezer of ice-cream down here we can finish." Sure enough there was! And then he wouldn't have to pack it down. We had it up. We looted the pantry as only irresponsible adults can loot, in their own pantry, and the evening ended in luxurious ease. Some time in the black of the night our friends left, and I suppose the sound of their carriage-wheels along the empty road set many a neighbor wondering, through his sleep, "Who's sick now?" How could they know it was only a plumbing party?
As I look back on this evening it seems one of the pleasantest of the year. It isn't so much what you do, of course, as the way you feel about it, that makes the difference between pleasant and unpleasant. Shall we say of that evening that we meant to read aloud? Or that we meant to have a quiet evening with friends? Not at all. We say, with all the conviction in the world, that we meant, on that particular evening, to have a plumbing party, with the drain as the piA"ce de rA(C)sistance. Toward this our lives had been yearning, and lo! they had arrived!
Some few things, however, are hard to meet in that spirit. When the pigs broke out of the pen, about nine o'clock, and Hiram was away, and Mrs. Hiram needed our help to get them in—there was no use in pretending that we meant to do it. Moreover, the labor of rounding up pigs is one of mingled arduousness and delicacy. Pigs in clover was once a popular game, but pigs in a dark orchard is not a game at all, and it will, I am firmly convinced, never be popular. It is, I repeat, not a game, yet probably the only way to keep one's temper at all is to regard it, for the time being, as a major sport, like football and deep-sea fishing and mountain-climbing, where you are expected to take some risks and not think too much about results as such. On this basis it has, perhaps, its own rewards. But the attitude is difficult to maintain, especially late at night.
On that particular evening, as we returned, breathless and worn, to the house, I could not refrain from saying, with some edge, "I never wanted to keep pigs anyway."
"Who says we're keeping them?" remarked Jonathan; and then we laughed and laughed.
"You needn't think I'm laughing because you said anything specially funny," I said. "It's only because I'm tired enough to laugh at anything."
The pump, too, tried my philosophy now and then. One evening when I had worn my hands to the bone cutting out thick leather washers for Jonathan to insert somewhere in the circulatory system of that same monster, I finally broke out, "Oh, dear! I hate the pump! I wanted a moonlight walk!"
"I'll have the thing together now in a jiffy," said Jonathan.
"Jiffy! There's no use talking about jiffies at half-past ten at night," I snarled. I was determined anyway to be as cross as I liked. "Why can't we find a really simple way of living? This isn't simple. It's highly complex and very difficult."
"You cut those washers very well," suggested Jonathan soothingly, but I was not prepared to be soothed.
"It was hateful work, though. Now, look what we've done this evening! We've shut up a setting hen, and housed the little turkeys, and driven that cow back into the road, and mended a window-shade and the dog's chain, and now we've fixed the pump—and it won't stay fixed at that!"
"Fair evening's work," murmured Jonathan as he rapidly assembled the pump.
"Yes, as work. But all I mean is—it isn't simple. Farm life has a reputation for simplicity that I begin to think is overdone. It doesn't seem to me that my evening has been any more simple than if we had dressed for dinner and gone to the opera or played bridge. In fact, at this distance, that, compared with this, has the simplicity of a—I don't know what!"
"I like your climaxes," said Jonathan, and we both laughed. "There! I'm done. Now suppose we go, in our simple way, and lock up the barns and chicken-houses."
* * * * *
And so the evenings came and went, each offering a prospect of fair and quiet things—books and firelight and moonlight and talk; many in retrospect full of things quite different—drains and latches and fledglings and cows and pigs. Many, but not all. For the evenings did now and then come when the pump ceased from troubling and the "critters" were at rest. Evenings when we sat under the lamp and read, when we walked and walked along moonlit roads or lay on the slopes of moon-washed meadows. It was on such an evening that we faced the vagaries of farm life and searched for a philosophy to cover them.
"I'm beginning to see that it will never be any better," I said.
"Probably not," said Jonathan, talking around his pipe.
"You seem contented enough about it."
"I don't know that I'm contented, but perhaps I'm resigned. I believe it's necessary."
"Of course it's necessary."
Jonathan often has the air of having known since infancy the great truths about life that I have just discovered. I overlooked this, and went on, "You see, we're right down close to the earth that is the ultimate basis of everything, and all the caprices of things touch us immediately and we have to make immediate adjustments to them."
"And that knocks the bottom out of our evenings."
"Now if we're in the city, playing bridge, somebody else is making those adjustments for us. We're like the princess with seventeen mattresses between her and the pea."
"She felt it, though," said Jonathan. "It kept her awake."
"I know. She had a poor night. But even she would hardly have maintained that she felt it as she would have done if the mattresses hadn't been there."
"True," said Jonathan.
"Farm life is the pea without the mattresses—" I went on.
"Sounds a little cheerless," said Jonathan.
"Well—of course, it isn't really cheerless at all. But neither is it easy. It's full of remorseless demands for immediate adjustment."
"That was the way the princess felt about her pea."
"The princess was a snippy little thing. But after all, probably her life was full of adjustments of other sorts. She couldn't call her soul her own a minute, I suppose."
"Perhaps that was why she ran away," suggested Jonathan.
"Of course it was. She ran away to find the simple life and didn't find it."
"No. She found the pea—even with all those mattresses."
"And we've run away, and found several peas, and fewer mattresses," said Jonathan.
"Let's not get confused—"
"I'm not confused," said Jonathan.
"Well, I shall be in a minute if I don't look out. You can't follow a parallel too far. What I mean is, that if you run away from one kind of complexity you run into another kind."
"What are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to like it all," I answered, "and make believe I meant to do it."
After that we were silent awhile. Then I tried again. "You know your trick of waltzing with a glass of water on your head?"
"Well, I wonder if we couldn't do that with our souls."
"That suggests to me a rather curious picture," said Jonathan.
"Well—you know what I mean. When you do that, your body takes up all the jolts and jiggles before they get to the top of your head, so the glass stays quiet."
"Well, I don't see why—only, of course, our souls aren't really anything like glasses of water, and it would be perfectly detestable to think of carrying them around carefully like that."
"Perhaps you'd better back out of that figure of speech," suggested Jonathan. "Go back to your princess. Say, 'every man his own mattress.' "
"No. Any figure is wrong. The trouble with all of them is that as soon as you use one it begins to get in your way, and say all sorts of things for you that you never meant at all. And then if you notice it, it bothers you, and if you don't notice it, you get drawn into crooked thinking."
"And yet you can't think without them."
"No, you can't think without them."
"Well—where are we, anyway?" he asked placidly.
"I don't know at all. Only I feel sure that leading the simple life doesn't depend on the things you do it with. Feeding your own cows and pigs and using pumps and candles brings you no nearer to it than marketing by telephone and using city water supply and electric lighting. I don't know what does bring you nearer, but I'm sure it must be something inside you."
"That sounds rather reasonable," said Jonathan; "almost scriptural—"
"Yes, I know," I said.
It is late afternoon in mid-September. I stand in my garden sniffing the raw air, and wondering, as always at this season, will there be frost to-night or will there not? Of course if I were a woodchuck or a muskrat, or any other really intelligent creature, I should know at once and act accordingly, but being only a stupid human being, I am thrown back on conjecture, assisted by the thermometer, and an appeal to Jonathan.
"Too much wind for frost," says he.
"Sure? I'd hate to lose my nasturtiums quite so early."
"You won't lose 'em. Look at the thermometer if you don't believe me. If it's above forty you're safe."
I look, and try to feel reassured. But I am not quite easy in my mind until next morning when, running out before breakfast, I make the rounds and find everything untouched.
But a few days later the alarm comes again. There is no wind this time, and, what is worse, an ominous silence falls at dusk over the orchard and meadow. "Why is everything so still?" I ask myself. "Oh, of course—the katydids aren't talking—and the crickets, and all the other whirr-y things. Ah! That means business! My poor garden!"
"Jonathan!" I call, as I feel rather than see his shape whirling noiselessly in at the big gate after his ride up from the station. "Help me cover my nasturtiums. There'll be frost to-night."
"Maybe," says Jonathan's voice.
"Not maybe at all—surely. Listen to the katydids!"
"You mean, listen to the absence of katydids."
"Very well. The point is, I want newspapers."
"No. The point is, I am to bring newspapers."
"And tuck up your nasturtiums for the night in your peculiarly ridiculous fashion—"
"I know it looks ridiculous, but really it's sensible. There may be weeks of summer after this."
And so the nasturtiums are tucked up, cozily hidden under the big layers of sheets, whose corners we fasten down with stones. To be sure, the garden is rather a funny sight, with these pale shapes sprawling over its beds. But it pays. For in the morning, though over in the vegetable garden the squash leaves and lima beans are blackened and limp, my nasturtiums are still pert and crisp. I pull off the papers, wondering what the passers-by have thought, and lo! my gay garden, good for perhaps two weeks more!
But a day arrives when even newspaper coddling is of no avail. Sometimes it is in late September, sometimes not until October, but when it comes there is no resisting.
The sun goes down, leaving a clear sky paling to green at the horizon. A still cold falls upon the world, and I feel that it is the end. Shears in hand, I cut everything I can—nasturtiums down to the ground,—leaves, buds, and all,—feathery sprays of cosmos, asters by the armful. Those last bouquets that I bring into the house are always the most beautiful, for I do not have to save buds for later cutting. There will, alas, be no later cutting.
So I fill my bowls and vases, and next morning I go out, well knowing what I shall see. It is a beautiful sight, too, if one can forget its meaning. The whole golden-green world of autumn has been touched with silver. In the low-lying swamp beyond the orchard it is almost like a light snowfall. The meadows rising beyond the barns are silvered over wherever the long tree-shadows still lie. And in my garden, too, where the shadows linger, every leaf is frosted, but as soon as the sun warms them through, leaf and twig turn dark and droop to the ground. It is the end.
Except, indeed, for my brave marigolds and calendulas and little button asters. It is for this reason that I have given them space all summer, nipping them back when they tried to blossom early, for they seem a bit crude compared with the other flowers. But now that frost is here, my feelings warm to them. I cannot criticize their color and texture, so grateful am I to them for not giving up. And when last night's cuttings have faded, I shall be very glad of a glowing mass of marigold beside my fireplace, and of the yellow stars of calendula, like embodied sunshine, on my dining-table.
Well, then, the frost has come! And after the first pang of realization, I find that, curiously enough, the worst is over. Since it has come, let it come! And now—hurrah for the garden house-cleaning! The garden is dead—the garden of yesterday! Long live the garden—the garden of to-morrow! For suddenly my mind has leaped ahead to spring.
I can hardly wait for breakfast to be over, before I am out in working clothes, pulling up things—not weeds now, but flowers, or what were flowers. Nasturtiums, asters, cosmos, snapdragon, stock, late-blooming cornflowers—up they all come, all the annuals, and the biennials that have had their season. I fling them together in piles, and soon have small haystacks all along my grass paths, and—there I am! Down again to the good brown earth!
It is with positive satisfaction that I stand and survey my beds, great bare patches of earth, glorified here and there by low clumps of calendula and great bushes of marigold. Now, then! I can do anything! I can dig, and fertilize, and transplant. Best of all, I can plan and plan! The crisp wind stings my cheeks, but as I work I feel the sun hot on the back of my neck. I get the smell of the earth as I turn it over, mingled with the pungent tang of marigold blossoms, very pleasant out of doors, though almost too strong for the house except near a fireplace. I believe the most characteristic fall odors are to me this of marigold, mingled with the fragrance of apples piled in the orchard, the good smell of earth newly turned up, and the flavor of burning leaves, borne now and then on the wind, from the outdoor house-cleaning of the world.
There is perhaps no season of all the garden year that brings more real delight to the gardener, no time so stimulating to the imagination. This year in the garden has been good, but next year shall be better. All the failures, or near-failures, shall of course be turned into successes, and the successes shall be bettered. Last year there were not quite enough hollyhocks, but next year there shall be such glories! There are seedlings that I have been saving, over on the edge of the phlox. I dash across to look them up—yes, here they are, splendid little fellows, leaves only a bit crumpled by the frost. I dig them up carefully, keeping earth packed about their roots, and one by one I convey them across and set them out in a beautiful row where I want them to grow next year. Their place is beside the old stone-flagged path, and I picture them rising tall against the side of the woodshed, whose barrenness I have besides more than half covered with honeysuckle.
Then, there are my foxgloves. Some of them I have already transplanted, but not all. There is a little corner full of stocky yearlings that I must change now. And that same corner can be used for poppies. I have kept seeds of this year's poppies—funny little brown pepper-shakers, with tiny holes at the end through which I shake out the fine seed dust. Doubtless they would attend to all this without my help, but I like to be sure that even my self-seeding annuals come up where I most want them.
Biennials, like the foxglove and canterbury bells, are of course, the difficult children of the garden, because you have to plan not only for next year but for the year after. Next year's bloom is secured—unless they winter-kill—in this year's young plants, growing since spring, or even since the fall before. These I transplant for next summer's beauty. But for the year after I like to take double precautions. Already I have tiny seedlings, started since August, but besides these I sow seed, too late to start before spring. For a severe winter may do havoc, and I shall then need the early start given by fall sowing.
As I work on, I discover all sorts of treasures—young plants, seedlings from all the big-folk of my garden. Young larkspurs surround the bushy parent clumps, and the ground near the forget-me-nots is fairly carpeted with little new ones. I have found that, though the old forget-me-nots will live through, it pays to pull out the most ragged of them and trust to the youngsters to fill their places. These, and English daisies, I let grow together about as they will. They are pretty together, with their mingling of pink, white, and blue, they never run out, and all I need is to keep them from spreading too far, or from crowding each other too much.
When my back aches from this kind of sorting and shifting, I straighten up and look about me again. Ah! The phlox! Time now to attend to that!
My white phlox is really the most distinguished thing in my garden. I have pink and lavender, too, but any one can have pink and lavender by ordering them from a florist. They can have white, too, but not my white. For mine never saw a florist; it is an inheritance.
Sixty or seventy years ago there was a beautiful little garden north of the old house tended and loved by a beautiful lady. The lady died, and the garden did not long outlive her. Its place was taken by a crab-apple orchard, which flourished, bore blossom and fruit, until in its turn it grew old, while the garden had faded to a dim tradition. But one day in August, a few years ago, I discovered under the shade of an old crab tree, two slender sprays of white phlox, trying to blossom. In memory of that old garden and its lady, I took them up and cherished them. And the miracle of life was again made manifest. For from those two little half-starved roots has come the most splendid part of my garden. All summer it makes a thick green wall on the garden's edge, beside the flagged path. In the other beds it rises in luxuriant masses, giving background and body with its wonderful deep green foliage, which is greener and thicker than any other phlox I know. And when its season to bloom arrives—a long month, from early August to mid-September—it is a glory of whiteness, the tallest sprays on a level with my eyes, the shortest shoulder high, except when rain weighs down the heavy heads and they lean across the paths barring my passage with their fragrant wetness.