THE FRIENDLY ROAD
New Adventures in Contentment
By David Grayson (Pseud. of Ray Stannard Baker)
Author of "Adventure in Contentment," "Adventures in Friendship"
Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty
Copyright, 1913, by DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
"Surely it is good to be alive at a time like this."
THE FRIENDLY ROAD
A WORD TO HIM WHO OPENS THIS BOOK
I did not plan when I began writing these chapters to make an entire book, but only to put down the more or less unusual impressions, the events and adventures, of certain quiet pilgrimages in country roads. But when I had written down all of these things, I found I had material in plenty.
"What shall I call it now that I have written it?" I asked myself.
At first I thought I should call it "Adventures on the Road," or "The Country Road," or something equally simple, for I would not have the title arouse any appetite which the book itself could not satisfy. One pleasant evening I was sitting on my porch with my dog sleeping near me, and Harriet not far away rocking and sewing, and as I looked out across the quiet fields I could see in the distance a curving bit of the town road. I could see the valley below it and the green hill beyond, and my mind went out swiftly along the country road which I had so recently travelled on foot, and I thought with deep satisfaction of all the people I had met on my pilgrimages—the Country Minister with his problems, the buoyant Stanleys, Bill Hahn the Socialist, the Vedders in their garden, the Brush Peddler. I thought of the Wonderful City, and of how for a time I had been caught up into its life. I thought of the men I met at the livery stable, especially Healy, the wit, and of that strange Girl of the Street. And it was good to think of them all living around me, not so very far away, connected with me through darkness and space by a certain mysterious human cord. Most of all I love that which I cannot see beyond the hill.
"Harriet," I said aloud, "it grows more wonderful every year how full the world is of friendly people!"
So I got up quickly and came in here to my room, and taking a fresh sheet of paper I wrote down the title of my new book:
"The Friendly Road."
I invite you to travel with me upon this friendly road. You may find, as I did, something which will cause you for a time, to forget yourself into contentment. But if you chance to be a truly serious person, put down my book. Let nothing stay your hurried steps, nor keep you from your way.
As for those of us who remain, we will loiter as much as ever we please. We'll take toll of these spring days, we'll stop wherever evening overtakes us, we'll eat the food of hospitality—and make friends for life!
I. I Leave My Farm
II. I Whistle
III. The House by the Side of the Road
IV. I Am the Spectator of a Mighty Battle, in which Christian Meets Apollyon
V. I Play the Part of a Spectacle Peddler
VI. An Experiment in Human Nature
VII. The Undiscovered Country
VIII. The Hedge
IX. The Man Possessed
X. I Am Caught Up Into Life
XI. I Come to Grapple with the City
XII. The Return
CHAPTER I. I LEAVE MY FARM
"Is it so small a thing To have enjoyed the sun, To have lived light in spring?"
It is eight o'clock of a sunny spring morning. I have been on the road for almost three hours. At five I left the town of Holt, before six I had crossed the railroad at a place called Martin's Landing, and an hour ago, at seven, I could see in the distance the spires of Nortontown. And all the morning as I came tramping along the fine country roads with my pack-strap resting warmly on my shoulder, and a song in my throat—just nameless words to a nameless tune—and all the birds singing, and all the brooks bright under their little bridges, I knew that I must soon step aside and put down, if I could, some faint impression of the feeling of this time and place. I cannot hope to convey any adequate sense of it all—of the feeling of lightness, strength, clearness, I have as I sit here under this maple tree—but I am going to write as long as ever I am happy at it, and when I am no longer happy at it, why, here at my very hand lies the pleasant country road, stretching away toward newer hills and richer scenes.
Until to-day I have not really been quite clear in my own mind as to the step I have taken. My sober friend, have you ever tried to do anything that the world at large considers not quite sensible, not quite sane? Try it! It is easier to commit a thundering crime. A friend of mine delights in walking to town bareheaded, and I fully believe the neighbourhood is more disquieted thereby than it would be if my friend came home drunken or failed to pay his debts.
Here I am then, a farmer, forty miles from home in planting time, taking his ease under a maple tree and writing in a little book held on his knee! Is not that the height of absurdity? Of all my friends the Scotch Preacher was the only one who seemed to understand why it was that I must go away for a time. Oh, I am a sinful and revolutionary person!
When I left home last week, if you could have had a truthful picture of me—for is there not a photography so delicate that it will catch the dim thought-shapes which attend upon our lives?—if you could have had such a truthful picture of me, you would have seen, besides a farmer named Grayson with a gray bag hanging from his shoulder, a strange company following close upon his steps. Among this crew you would have made out easily:
Two fine cows. Four Berkshire pigs. One team of gray horses, the old mare a little lame in her right foreleg. About fifty hens, four cockerels, and a number of ducks and geese.
More than this—I shall offer no explanation in these writings of any miracles that may appear—you would have seen an entirely respectable old farmhouse bumping and hobbling along as best it might in the rear. And in the doorway, Harriet Grayson, in her immaculate white apron, with the veritable look in her eyes which she wears when I am not comporting myself with quite the proper decorum.
Oh, they would not let me go! How they all followed clamoring after me. My thoughts coursed backward faster than ever I could run away. If you could have heard that motley crew of the barnyard as I did—the hens all cackling, the ducks quacking, the pigs grunting, and the old mare neighing and stamping, you would have thought it a miracle that I escaped at all.
So often we think in a superior and lordly manner of our possessions, when, as a matter of fact, we do not really possess them, they possess us. For ten years I have been the humble servant, attending upon the commonest daily needs of sundry hens, ducks, geese, pigs, bees, and of a fussy and exacting old gray mare. And the habit of servitude, I find, has worn deep scars upon me. I am almost like the life prisoner who finds the door of his cell suddenly open, and fears to escape. Why, I had almost become ALL farmer.
On the first morning after I left home I awoke as usual about five o'clock with the irresistible feeling that I must do the milking. So well disciplined had I become in my servitude that I instinctively thrust my leg out of bed—but pulled it quickly back in again, turned over, drew a long, luxurious breath, and said to myself:
"Avaunt cows! Get thee behind me, swine! Shoo, hens!"
Instantly the clatter of mastery to which I had responded so quickly for so many years grew perceptibly fainter, the hens cackled less domineeringly, the pigs squealed less insistently, and as for the strutting cockerel, that lordly and despotic bird stopped fairly in the middle of a crow, and his voice gurgled away in a spasm of astonishment. As for the old farmhouse, it grew so dim I could scarcely see it at all! Having thus published abroad my Declaration of Independence, nailed my defiance to the door, and otherwise established myself as a free person, I turned over in my bed and took another delicious nap.
Do you know, friend, we can be free of many things that dominate our lives by merely crying out a rebellious "Avaunt!"
But in spite of this bold beginning, I assure you it required several days to break the habit of cows and hens. The second morning I awakened again at five o'clock, but my leg did not make for the side of the bed; the third morning I was only partially awakened, and on the fourth morning I slept like a millionaire (or at least I slept as a millionaire is supposed to sleep!) until the clock struck seven.
For some days after I left home—and I walked out as casually that morning as though I were going to the barn—I scarcely thought or tried to think of anything but the Road. Such an unrestrained sense of liberty, such an exaltation of freedom, I have not known since I was a lad. When I came to my farm from the city many years ago it was as one bound, as one who had lost out in the World's battle and was seeking to get hold again somewhere upon the realities of life. I have related elsewhere how I thus came creeping like one sore wounded from the field of battle, and how, among our hills, in the hard, steady labour in the soil of the fields, with new and simple friends around me, I found a sort of rebirth or resurrection. I that was worn out, bankrupt both physically and morally, learned to live again. I have achieved something of high happiness in these years, something I know of pure contentment; and I have learned two or three deep and simple things about life: I have learned that happiness is not to be had for the seeking, but comes quietly to him who pauses at his difficult task and looks upward. I have learned that friendship is very simple, and, more than all else, I have learned the lesson of being quiet, of looking out across the meadows and hills, and of trusting a little in God.
And now, for the moment, I am regaining another of the joys of youth—that of the sense of perfect freedom. I made no plans when I left home, I scarcely chose the direction in which I was to travel, but drifted out, as a boy might, into the great busy world. Oh, I have dreamed of that! It seems almost as though, after ten years, I might again really touch the highest joys of adventure!
So I took the Road as it came, as a man takes a woman, for better or worse—I took the Road, and the farms along it, and the sleepy little villages, and the streams from the hillsides—all with high enjoyment. They were good coin in my purse! And when I had passed the narrow horizon of my acquaintanceship, and reached country new to me, it seemed as though every sense I had began to awaken. I must have grown dull, unconsciously, in the last years there on my farm. I cannot describe the eagerness of discovery I felt at climbing each new hill, nor the long breath I took at the top of it as I surveyed new stretches of pleasant countryside.
Assuredly this is one of the royal moments of all the year—fine, cool, sparkling spring weather. I think I never saw the meadows richer and greener—and the lilacs are still blooming, and the catbirds and orioles are here. The oaks are not yet in full leaf, but the maples have nearly reached their full mantle of verdure—they are very beautiful and charming to see.
It is curious how at this moment of the year all the world seems astir. I suppose there is no moment in any of the seasons when the whole army of agriculture, regulars and reserves, is so fully drafted for service in the fields. And all the doors and windows, both in the little villages and on the farms, stand wide open to the sunshine, and all the women and girls are busy in the yards and gardens. Such a fine, active, gossipy, adventurous world as it is at this moment of the year!
It is the time, too, when all sorts of travelling people are afoot. People who have been mewed up in the cities for the winter now take to the open road—all the peddlers and agents and umbrella-menders, all the nursery salesmen and fertilizer agents, all the tramps and scientists and poets—all abroad in the wide sunny roads. They, too, know well this hospitable moment of the spring; they, too, know that doors and hearts are open and that even into dull lives creeps a bit of the spirit of adventure. Why, a farmer will buy a corn planter, feed a tramp, or listen to a poet twice as easily at this time of year as at any other!
For several days I found myself so fully occupied with the bustling life of the Road that I scarcely spoke to a living soul, but strode straight ahead. The spring has been late and cold: most of the corn and some of the potatoes are not yet in, and the tobacco lands are still bare and brown. Occasionally I stopped to watch some ploughman in the fields: I saw with a curious, deep satisfaction how the moist furrows, freshly turned, glistened in the warm sunshine. There seemed to be something right and fit about it, as well as human and beautiful. Or at evening I would stop to watch a ploughman driving homeward across his new brown fields, raising a cloud of fine dust from the fast drying furrow crests. The low sun shining through the dust and glorifying it, the weary-stepping horses, the man all sombre-coloured like the earth itself and knit into the scene as though a part of it, made a picture exquisitely fine to see.
And what a joy I had also of the lilacs blooming in many a dooryard, the odour often trailing after me for a long distance in the road, and of the pungent scent at evening in the cool hollows of burning brush heaps and the smell of barnyards as I went by—not unpleasant, not offensive—and above all, the deep, earthy, moist odour of new-ploughed fields.
And then, at evening, to hear the sound of voices from the dooryards as I pass quite unseen; no words, but just pleasant, quiet intonations of human voices, borne through the still air, or the low sounds of cattle in the barnyards, quieting down for the night, and often, if near a village, the distant, slumbrous sound of a church bell, or even the rumble of a train—how good all these sounds are! They have all come to me again this week with renewed freshness and impressiveness. I am living deep again!
It was not, indeed, until last Wednesday that I began to get my fill, temporarily, of the outward satisfaction of the Road—the primeval takings of the senses—the mere joys of seeing, hearing, smelling, touching. But on that day I began to wake up; I began to have a desire to know something of all the strange and interesting people who are working in their fields, or standing invitingly in their doorways, or so busily afoot in the country roads. Let me add, also, for this is one of the most important parts of my present experience, that this new desire was far from being wholly esoteric. I had also begun to have cravings which would not in the least be satisfied by landscapes or dulled by the sights and sounds of the road. A whiff here and there from a doorway at mealtime had made me long for my own home, for the sight of Harriet calling from the steps:
But I had covenanted with myself long before starting that I would literally "live light in spring." It was the one and primary condition I made with myself—and made with serious purpose—and when I came away I had only enough money in my pocket and sandwiches in my pack to see me through the first three or four days. Any man may brutally pay his way anywhere, but it is quite another thing to be accepted by your humankind not as a paid lodger but as a friend. Always, it seems to me, I have wanted to submit myself, and indeed submit the stranger, to that test. Moreover, how can any man look for true adventure in life if he always knows to a certainty where his next meal is coming from? In a world so completely dominated by goods, by things, by possessions, and smothered by security, what fine adventure is left to a man of spirit save the adventure of poverty?
I do not mean by this the adventure of involuntary poverty, for I maintain that involuntary poverty, like involuntary riches, is a credit to no man. It is only as we dominate life that we really live. What I mean here, if I may so express it, is an adventure in achieved poverty. In the lives of such true men as Francis of Assisi and Tolstoi, that which draws the world to them in secret sympathy is not that they lived lives of poverty, but rather, having riches at their hands, or for the very asking, that they chose poverty as the better way of life.
As for me, I do not in the least pretend to have accepted the final logic of an achieved poverty. I have merely abolished temporarily from my life a few hens and cows, a comfortable old farmhouse, and—certain other emoluments and hereditaments—but remain the slave of sundry cloth upon my back and sundry articles in my gray bag—including a fat pocket volume or so, and a tin whistle. Let them pass now. To-morrow I may wish to attempt life with still less. I might survive without my battered copy of "Montaigne" or even submit to existence without that sense of distant companionship symbolized by a postage-stamp, and as for trousers—
In this deceptive world, how difficult of attainment is perfection!
No, I expect I shall continue for a long time to owe the worm his silk, the beast his hide, the sheep his wool, and the cat his perfume! What I am seeking is something as simple and as quiet as the trees or the hills—just to look out around me at the pleasant countryside, to enjoy a little of this show, to meet (and to help a little if I may) a few human beings, and thus to get nearly into the sweet kernel of human life. My friend, you may or may not think this a worthy object; if you do not, stop here, go no further with me; but if you do, why, we'll exchange great words on the road; we'll look up at the sky together, we'll see and hear the finest things in this world! We'll enjoy the sun! We'll live light in spring!
Until last Tuesday, then, I was carried easily and comfortably onward by the corn, the eggs, and the honey of my past labours, and before Wednesday noon I began to experience in certain vital centres recognizable symptoms of a variety of discomfort anciently familiar to man. And it was all the sharper because I did not know how or where I could assuage it. In all my life, in spite of various ups and downs in a fat world, I don't think I was ever before genuinely hungry. Oh, I've been hungry in a reasonable, civilized way, but I have always known where in an hour or so I could get all I wanted to eat—a condition accountable, in this world, I am convinced, for no end of stupidity. But to be both physically and, let us say, psychologically hungry, and not to know where or how to get anything to eat, adds something to the zest of life.
By noon on Wednesday, then, I was reduced quite to a point of necessity. But where was I to begin, and how? I know from long experience the suspicion with which the ordinary farmer meets the Man of the Road—the man who appears to wish to enjoy the fruits of the earth without working for them with his hands. It is a distrust deep-seated and ages old. Nor can the Man of the Road ever quite understand the Man of the Fields. And here was I, for so long the stationary Man of the Fields, essaying the role of the Man of the Road. I experienced a sudden sense of the enlivenment of the faculties: I must now depend upon wit or cunning or human nature to win my way, not upon mere skill of the hand or strength in the bent back. Whereas in my former life, when I was assailed by a Man of the Road, whether tramp or peddler or poet, I had only to stand stock-still within my fences and say nothing—though indeed I never could do that, being far too much interested in every one who came my way—and the invader was soon repelled. There is nothing so resistant as the dull security of possession the stolidity of ownership!
Many times that day I stopped by a field side or at the end of a lane, or at a house-gate, and considered the possibilities of making an attack. Oh, I measured the houses and barns I saw with a new eye! The kind of country I had known so long and familiarly became a new and foreign land, full of strange possibilities. I spied out the men in the fields and did not fail, also, to see what I could of the commissary department of each farmstead as I passed. I walked for miles looking thus for a favourable opening—and with a sensation of embarrassment at once disagreeable and pleasurable. As the afternoon began to deepen I saw that I must absolutely do something: a whole day tramping in the open air without a bite to eat is an irresistible argument.
Presently I saw from the road a farmer and his son planting potatoes in a sloping field. There was no house at all in view. At the bars stood a light wagon half filled with bags of seed potatoes, and the horse which had drawn it stood quietly, not far off, tied to the fence. The man and the boy, each with a basket on his arm, were at the farther end of the field, dropping potatoes. I stood quietly watching them. They stepped quickly and kept their eyes on the furrows: good workers. I liked the looks of them. I liked also the straight, clean furrows; I liked the appearance of the horse.
"I will stop here," I said to myself.
I cannot at all convey the sense of high adventure I had as I stood there. Though I had not the slightest idea of what I should do or say, yet I was determined upon the attack.
Neither father nor son saw me until they had nearly reached the end of the field.
"Step lively, Ben," I heard the man say with some impatience; "we've got to finish this field to-day."
"I AM steppin' lively, dad," responded the boy, "but it's awful hot. We can't possibly finish to-day. It's too much."
"We've got to get through here to-day," the man replied grimly; "we're already two weeks late."
I know just how the man felt; for I knew well the difficulty a farmer has in getting help in planting time. The spring waits for no man. My heart went out to the man and boy struggling there in the heat of their field. For this is the real warfare of the common life.
"Why," I said to myself with a curious lift of the heart, "they have need of a fellow just like me."
At that moment the boy saw me and, missing a step in the rhythm of the planting, the father also looked up and saw me. But neither said a word until the furrows were finished, and the planters came to refill their baskets.
"Fine afternoon," I said, sparring for an opening.
"Fine," responded the man rather shortly, glancing up from his work. I recalled the scores of times I had been exactly in his place, and had glanced up to see the stranger in the road.
"Got another basket handy?" I asked.
"There is one somewhere around here," he answered not too cordially. The boy said nothing at all, but eyed me with absorbing interest. The gloomy look had already gone from his face.
I slipped my gray bag from my shoulder, took off my coat, and put them both down inside the fence. Then I found the basket and began to fill it from one of the bags. Both man and boy looked up at me questioningly. I enjoyed the situation immensely.
"I heard you say to your son," I said, "that you'd have to hurry in order to get in your potatoes to-day. I can see that for myself. Let me take a hand for a row or two."
The unmistakable shrewd look of the bargainer came suddenly into the man's face, but when I went about my business without hesitation or questioning, he said nothing at all. As for the boy, the change in his countenance was marvellous to see. Something new and astonishing had come into the world. Oh, I know what a thing it is to be a boy and to work in trouting time!
"How near are you planting, Ben?" I asked.
"About fourteen inches."
So we began in fine spirits. I was delighted with the favourable beginning of my enterprise; there is nothing which so draws men together as their employment at a common task.
Ben was a lad some fifteen years old-very stout and stocky, with a fine open countenance and a frank blue eye—all boy. His nose was as freckled as the belly of a trout. The whole situation, including the prospect of help in finishing a tiresome job, pleased him hugely. He stole a glimpse from time to time at me then at his father. Finally he said:
"Say, you'll have to step lively to keep up with dad."
"I'll show you," I said, "how we used to drop potatoes when I was a boy."
And with that I began to step ahead more quickly and make the pieces fairly fly.
"We old fellows," I said to the father, "must give these young sprouts a lesson once in a while."
"You will, will you?" responded the boy, and instantly began to drop the potatoes at a prodigious speed. The father followed with more dignity, but with evident amusement, and so we all came with a rush to the end of the row.
"I guess that beats the record across THIS field!" remarked the lad, puffing and wiping his forehead. "Say, but you're a good one!"
It gave me a peculiar thrill of pleasure; there is nothing more pleasing than the frank admiration of a boy.
We paused a moment and I said to the man: "This looks like fine potato land."
"The' ain't any better in these parts," he replied with some pride in his voice.
And so we went at the planting again: and as we planted we had great talk of seed potatoes and the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical planters, of cultivating and spraying, and all the lore of prices and profits. Once we stopped at the lower end of the field to get a drink from a jug of water set in the shade of a fence corner, and once we set the horse in the thills and moved the seed farther up the field. And tired and hungry as I felt I really enjoyed the work; I really enjoyed talking with this busy father and son, and I wondered what their home life was like and what were their real ambitions and hopes. Thus the sun sank lower and lower, the long shadows began to creep into the valleys, and we came finally toward the end of the field. Suddenly the boy Ben cried out:
I glanced up and saw standing near the gateway a slim, bright girl of about twelve in a fresh gingham dress.
"We're coming!" roared Ben, exultantly.
While we were hitching up the horse, the man said to me:
"You'll come down with us and have some supper."
"Indeed I will," I replied, trying not to make my response too eager.
"Did mother make gingerbread to-day?" I heard the boy whisper audibly.
"Sh-h—" replied the girl, "who is that man?"
"I don't know" with a great accent of mystery—"and dad don't know. Did mother make gingerbread?"
"Sh-h—he'll hear you."
"Gee! but he can plant potatoes. He dropped down on us out of a clear sky."
"What is he?" she asked. "A tramp?"
"Nope, not a tramp. He works. But, Sis, did mother make gingerbread?"
So we all got into the light wagon and drove briskly out along the shady country road. The evening was coming on, and the air was full of the scent of blossoms. We turned finally into a lane and thus came promptly, for the horse was as eager as we, to the capacious farmyard. A motherly woman came out from the house, spoke to her son, and nodded pleasantly to me. There was no especial introduction. I said merely, "My name is Grayson," and I was accepted without a word.
I waited to help the man, whose name I had now learned—it was Stanley—with his horse and wagon, and then we came up to the house. Near the back door there was a pump, with a bench and basin set just within a little cleanly swept, open shed. Rolling back my collar and baring my arms I washed myself in the cool water, dashing it over my head until I gasped, and then stepping back, breathless and refreshed, I found the slim girl, Mary, at my elbow with a clean soft towel. As I stood wiping quietly I could smell the ambrosial odours from the kitchen. In all my life I never enjoyed a moment more than that, I think.
"Come in now," said the motherly Mrs. Stanley.
So we filed into the roomy kitchen, where an older girl, called Kate, was flying about placing steaming dishes upon the table. There was also an older son, who had been at the farm chores. It was altogether a fine, vigorous, independent American family. So we all sat down and drew up our chairs. Then we paused a moment, and the father, bowing his head, said in a low voice:
"For all Thy good gifts, Lord, we thank Thee. Preserve us and keep us through another night."
I suppose it was a very ordinary farm meal, but it seems to me I never tasted a better one. The huge piles of new baked bread, the sweet farm butter, already delicious with the flavour of new grass, the bacon and eggs, the potatoes, the rhubarb sauce, the great plates of new, hot gingerbread and, at the last, the custard pie—a great wedge of it, with fresh cheese. After the first ravenous appetite of hardworking men was satisfied, there came to be a good deal of lively conversation. The girls had some joke between them which Ben was trying in vain to fathom. The older son told how much milk a certain Alderney cow had given, and Mr. Stanley, quite changed now as he sat at his own table from the rather grim farmer of the afternoon, revealed a capacity for a husky sort of fun, joking Ben about his potato-planting and telling in a lively way of his race with me. As for Mrs. Stanley, she sat smiling behind her tall coffee pot, radiating good cheer and hospitality. They asked me no questions at all, and I was so hungry and tired that I volunteered no information.
After supper we went out for half or three quarters of an hour to do some final chores, and Mr. Stanley and I stopped in the cattle yard and looked over the cows, and talked learnedly about the pigs, and I admired his spring calves to his hearts content, for they really were a fine lot. When we came in again the lamps had been lighted in the sitting-room and the older daughter was at the telephone exchanging the news of the day with some neighbour—and with great laughter and enjoyment. Occasionally she would turn and repeat some bit of gossip to the family, and Mrs. Stanley would claim:
"Can't we have a bit of music to-night?" inquired Mr. Stanley.
Instantly Ben and the slim girl, Mary, made a wild dive for the front room—the parlour—and came out with a first-rate phonograph which they placed on the table.
"Something lively now," said Mr. Stanley.
So they put on a rollicking negro song called. "My Georgia Belle," which, besides the tuneful voices, introduced a steamboat whistle and a musical clangour of bells. When it wound up with a bang, Mr. Stanley took his big comfortable pipe out of his mouth and cried out:
We had further music of the same sort and with one record the older daughter, Kate, broke into the song with a full, strong though uncultivated voice—which pleased us all very much indeed.
Presently Mrs. Stanley, who was sitting under the lamp with a basket of socks to mend, began to nod.
"Mother's giving the signal," said the older son.
"No, no, I'm not a bit sleepy," exclaimed Mrs. Stanley.
But with further joking and laughing the family began to move about. The older daughter gave me a hand lamp and showed me the way upstairs to a little room at the end of the house.
"I think," she said with pleasant dignity, "you will find everything you need."
I cannot tell with what solid pleasure I rolled into bed or how soundly and sweetly I slept.
This was the first day of my real adventures.
CHAPTER II. I WHISTLE
When I was a boy I learned after many discouragements to play on a tin whistle. There was a wandering old fellow in our town who would sit for hours on the shady side of a certain ancient hotel-barn, and with his little whistle to his lips, and gently swaying his head to his tune and tapping one foot in the gravel, he would produce the most wonderful and beguiling melodies. His favourite selections were very lively; he played, I remember, "Old Dan Tucker," and "Money Musk," and the tune of a rollicking old song, now no doubt long forgotten, called "Wait for the Wagon." I can see him yet, with his jolly eyes half closed, his lips puckered around the whistle, and his fingers curiously and stiffly poised over the stops. I am sure I shall never forget the thrill which his music gave to the heart of a certain barefoot boy.
At length, by means I have long since forgotten, I secured a tin whistle exactly like Old Tom Madison's and began diligently to practise such tunes as I knew. I am quite sure now that I must have made a nuisance of myself, for it soon appeared to be the set purpose of every member of the family to break up my efforts. Whenever my father saw me with the whistle to my lips, he would instantly set me at some useful work (oh, he was an adept in discovering useful work to do—for a boy!). And at the very sight of my stern aunt I would instantly secrete my whistle in my blouse and fly for the garret or cellar, like a cat caught in the cream. Such are the early tribulations of musical genius!
At last I discovered a remote spot on a beam in the hay-barn where, lighted by a ray of sunlight which came through a crack in the eaves and pointed a dusty golden finger into that hay-scented interior, I practised rapturously and to my heart's content upon my tin whistle. I learned "Money Musk" until I could play it in Old Tom Madison's best style—even to the last nod and final foot-tap. I turned a certain church hymn called "Yield Not to Temptation" into something quite inspiriting, and I played "Marching Through Georgia" until all the "happy hills of hay" were to the fervid eye of a boy's imagination full of tramping soldiers. Oh, I shall never forget the joys of those hours in the hay-barn, nor the music of that secret tin whistle! I can hear yet the crooning of the pigeons in the eaves, and the slatey sound of their wings as they flew across the open spaces in the great barn; I can smell yet the odour of the hay.
But with years, and the city, and the shame of youth, I put aside and almost forgot the art of whistling. When I was preparing for the present pilgrimage, however, it came to me with a sudden thrill of pleasure that nothing in the wide world now prevented me from getting a whistle and seeing whether I had forgotten my early cunning. At the very first good-sized town I came to I was delighted to find at a little candy and toy shop just the sort of whistle I wanted, at the extravagant price of ten cents. I bought it and put it in the bottom of my knapsack.
"Am I not old enough now," I said to myself, "to be as youthful as I choose?"
Isn't it the strangest thing in the world how long it takes us to learn to accept the joys of simple pleasures?—and some of us never learn at all. "Boo!" says the neighbourhood, and we are instantly frightened into doing a thousand unnecessary and unpleasant things, or prevented from doing a thousand beguiling things.
For the first few days I was on the road I thought often with pleasure of the whistle lying there in my bag, but it was not until after I left the Stanleys' that I felt exactly in the mood to try it.
The fact is, my adventures on the Stanley farm had left me in a very cheerful frame of mind. They convinced me that some of the great things I had expected of my pilgrimage were realizable possibilities. Why, I had walked right into the heart of as fine a family as I have seen these many days.
I remained with them the entire day following the potato-planting. We were out at five o'clock in the morning, and after helping with the chores, and eating a prodigious breakfast, we went again to the potato-field, and part of the time I helped plant a few remaining rows, and part of the time I drove a team attached to a wing-plow to cover the planting of the previous day.
In the afternoon a slashing spring rain set in, and Mr. Stanley, who was a forehanded worker, found a job for all of us in the barn. Ben, the younger son, and I sharpened mower-blades and a scythe or so, Ben turning the grindstone and I holding the blades and telling him stories into the bargain. Mr. Stanley and his stout older son overhauled the work-harness and tinkered the corn-planter. The doors at both ends of the barn stood wide open, and through one of them, framed like a picture, we could see the scudding floods descend upon the meadows, and through the other, across a fine stretch of open country, we could see all the roads glistening and the treetops moving under the rain.
"Fine, fine!" exclaimed Mr. Stanley, looking out from time to time, "we got in our potatoes just in the nick of time."
After supper that evening I told them of my plan to leave them on the following morning.
"Don't do that," said Mrs. Stanley heartily; "stay on with us."
"Yes," said Mr. Stanley, "we're shorthanded, and I'd be glad to have a man like you all summer. There ain't any one around here will pay a good man more'n I will, nor treat 'im better."
"I'm sure of it, Mr. Stanley," I said, "but I can't stay with you."
At that the tide of curiosity which I had seen rising ever since I came began to break through. Oh, I know how difficult it is to let the wanderer get by without taking toll of him! There are not so many people here in the country that we can afford to neglect them. And as I had nothing in the world to conceal, and, indeed, loved nothing better than the give and take of getting acquainted, we were soon at it in good earnest.
But it was not enough to tell them that my name was David Grayson and where my farm was located, and how many acres there were, and how much stock I had, and what I raised. The great particular "Why?"—as I knew it would be—concerned my strange presence on the road at this season of the year and the reason why I should turn in by chance, as I had done, to help at their planting. If a man is stationary, it seems quite impossible for him to imagine why any one should care to wander; and as for the wanderer it is inconceivable to him how any one can remain permanently at home.
We were all sitting comfortably around the table in the living-room. The lamps were lighted, and Mr. Stanley, in slippers, was smoking his pipe and Mrs. Stanley was darning socks over a mending-gourd, and the two young Stanleys were whispering and giggling about some matter of supreme consequence to youth. The windows were open, and we could smell the sweet scent of the lilacs from the yard and hear the drumming of the rain as it fell on the roof of the porch.
"It's easy to explain," I said. "The fact is, it got to the point on my farm that I wasn't quite sure whether I owned it or it owned me. And I made up my mind I'd get away for a while from my own horses and cattle and see what the world was like. I wanted to see how people lived up here, and what they are thinking about, and how they do their farming."
As I talked of my plans and of the duty one had, as I saw it, to be a good broad man as well as a good farmer, I grew more and more interested and enthusiastic. Mr. Stanley took his pipe slowly from his mouth, held it poised until it finally went out, and sat looking at me with a rapt expression. I never had a better audience. Finally, Mr. Stanley said very earnestly:
"And you have felt that way, too?"
"Why, father!" exclaimed Mrs. Stanley, in astonishment.
Mr. Stanley hastily put his pipe back into his mouth and confusedly searched in his pockets for a match; but I knew I had struck down deep into a common experience. Here was this brisk and prosperous farmer having his dreams too—dreams that even his wife did not know!
So I continued my talk with even greater fervour. I don't think that the boy Ben understood all that I said, for I was dealing with experiences common mostly to older men, but he somehow seemed to get the spirit of it, for quite unconsciously he began to hitch his chair toward me, then he laid his hand on my chair-arm and finally and quite simply he rested his arm against mine and looked at me with all his eyes. I keep learning that there is nothing which reaches men's hearts like talking straight out the convictions and emotions of your innermost soul. Those who hear you may not agree with you, or they may not understand you fully, but something incalculable, something vital, passes. And as for a boy or girl it is one of the sorriest of mistakes to talk down to them; almost always your lad of fifteen thinks more simply, more fundamentally, than you do; and what he accepts as good coin is not facts or precepts, but feelings and convictions—LIFE. And why shouldn't we speak out?
"I long ago decided," I said, "to try to be fully what I am and not to be anything or anybody else."
"That's right, that's right," exclaimed Mr. Stanley, nodding his head vigorously.
"It's about the oldest wisdom there is," I said, and with that I thought of the volume I carried in my pocket, and straightway I pulled it out and after a moment's search found the passage I wanted.
"Listen," I said, "to what this old Roman philosopher said"—and I held the book up to the lamp and read aloud:
"'You can be invincible if you enter into no contest in which it is not in your power to conquer. Take care, then, when you observe a man honoured before others or possessed of great power, or highly esteemed for any reason, not to suppose him happy and be not carried away by the appearance. For if the nature of the good is in our power, neither envy nor jealousy will have a place in us. But you yourself will not wish to be a general or a senator or consul, but a free man, and there is only one way to do this, to care not for the things which are not in our power.'"
"That," said Mr. Stanley, "is exactly what I've always said, but I didn't know it was in any book. I always said I didn't want to be a senator or a legislator, or any other sort of office-holder. It's good enough for me right here on this farm."
At that moment I glanced down into Ben's shining eyes.
"But I want to be a senator or—something—when I grow up," he said eagerly.
At this the older brother, who was sitting not far off, broke into a laugh, and the boy, who for a moment had been drawn out of his reserve, shrank back again and coloured to the hair.
"Well, Ben," said I, putting my hand on his knee, "don't you let anything stop you. I'll back you up; I'll vote for you."
After breakfast the next morning Mr. Stanley drew me aside and said:
"Now I want to pay you for your help yesterday and the day before."
"No," I said. "I've had more than value received. You've taken me in like a friend and brother. I've enjoyed it."
So Mrs. Stanley half filled my knapsack with the finest luncheon I've seen in many a day, and thus, with as pleasant a farewell as if I'd been a near relative, I set off up the country road. I was a little distressed in parting to see nothing of the boy Ben, for I had formed a genuine liking for him, but upon reaching a clump of trees which hid the house from the road I saw him standing in the moist grass of a fence corner.
"I want to say good-bye," he said in the gruff voice of embarrassment.
"Ben," I said, "I missed you, and I'd have hated to go off without seeing you again. Walk a bit with me."
So we walked side by side, talking quietly and when at last I shook his hand I said:
"Ben, don't you ever be afraid of acting up to the very best thoughts you have in your heart."
He said nothing for a moment, and then: "Gee! I'm sorry you're goin' away!"
"Gee!" I responded, "I'm sorry, too!"
With that we both laughed, but when I reached the top of the hill, and looked back, I saw him still standing there bare-footed in the road looking after me. I waved my hand and he waved his: and I saw him no more.
No country, after all, produces any better crop than its inhabitants. And as I travelled onward I liked to think of these brave, temperate, industrious, God-friendly American people. I have no fear of the country while so many of them are still to be found upon the farms and in the towns of this land.
So I tramped onward full of cheerfulness. The rain had ceased, but all the world was moist and very green and still. I walked for more than two hours with the greatest pleasure. About ten o'clock in the morning I stopped near a brook to drink and rest, for I was warm and tired. And it was then that I bethought me of the little tin pipe in my knapsack, and straightway I got it out, and, sitting down at the foot of a tree near the brook, I put it to my lips and felt for the stops with unaccustomed fingers. At first I made the saddest sort of work of it, and was not a little disappointed, indeed, with the sound of the whistle itself. It was nothing to my memory of it! It seemed thin and tinny.
However, I persevered at it, and soon produced a recognizable imitation of Tom Madison's "Old Dan Tucker." My success quite pleased me, and I became so absorbed that I quite lost account of the time and place. There was no one to hear me save a bluejay which for an hour or more kept me company. He sat on a twig just across the brook, cocking his head at me, and saucily wagging his tail. Occasionally he would dart off among the trees crying shrilly; but his curiosity would always get the better of him and back he would come again to try to solve the mystery of this rival whistling, which I'm sure was as shrill and as harsh as his own.
Presently, quite to my astonishment, I saw a man standing near the brookside not a dozen paces away from me. How long he had been there I don't know, for I had heard nothing of his coming. Beyond him in the town road I could see the head of his horse and the top of his buggy. I said not a word, but continued with my practising. Why shouldn't I? But it gave me quite a thrill for the moment; and at once I began to think of the possibilities of the situation. What a thing it was have so many unexpected and interesting situations developing! So I nodded my head and tapped my foot, and blew into my whistle all the more energetically. I knew my visitor could not possibly keep away. And he could not; presently he came nearer and said:
"What are you doing, neighbour?"
I continued a moment with my playing, but commanded him with my eye.
Oh, I assure you I assumed all the airs of a virtuoso. When I had finished my tune I removed my whistle deliberately and wiped my lips.
"Why, enjoying myself," I replied with greatest good humour. "What are you doing?"
"Why," he said, "watching you enjoy yourself. I heard you playing as I passed in the road, and couldn't imagine what it could be."
I told him I thought it might still be difficult, having heard me near at hand, to imagine what it could be—and thus, tossing the ball of good-humoured repartee back and forth, we walked down to the road together. He had a quiet old horse and a curious top buggy with the unmistakable box of an agent or peddler built on behind.
"My name," he said, "is Canfield. I fight dust."
"And mine," I said, "is Grayson. I whistle."
I discovered that he was an agent for brushes, and he opened his box and showed me the greatest assortment of big and little brushes: bristle brushes, broom brushes, yarn brushes, wire brushes, brushes for man and brushes for beast, brushes of every conceivable size and shape that ever I saw in all my life. He had out one of his especial pets—he called it his "leader"—and feeling it familiarly in his hand he instinctively began the jargon of well-handled and voice-worn phrases which went with that particular brush. It was just as though some one had touched a button and had started him going. It was amazing to me that any one in the world should be so much interested in mere brushes—until he actually began to make me feel that brushes were as interesting as anything else!
What a strange, little, dried-up old fellow he was, with his balls of muttonchop sidewhiskers, his thick eyebrows, and his lively blue eyes!—a man evidently not readily turned aside by rebuffs. He had already shown that his wit as a talker had been sharpened by long and varied contact with a world of reluctant purchasers. I was really curious to know more of him, so I said finally:
"See here, Mr. Canfield, it's just noon. Why not sit down here with me and have a bit of luncheon?"
"Why not?" he responded with alacrity. "As the fellow said, why not?"
He unhitched his horse, gave him a drink from the brook, and then tethered him where he could nip the roadside grass. I opened my bag and explored the wonders of Mrs. Stanley's luncheon. I cannot describe the absolutely carefree feeling I had. Always at home, when I would have liked to stop at the roadside with a stranger, I felt the nudge of a conscience troubled with cows and corn, but here I could stop where I liked, or go on when I liked, and talk with whom I pleased, as long as I pleased.
So we sat there, the brush-peddler and I, under the trees, and ate Mrs. Stanley's fine luncheon, drank the clear water from the brook, and talked great talk. Compared with Mr. Canfield I was a babe at wandering—and equally at talking. Was there any business he had not been in, or any place in the country he had not visited? He had sold everything from fly-paper to threshing-machines, he had picked up a large working knowledge of the weaknesses of human nature, and had arrived at the age of sixty-six with just enough available cash to pay the manufacturer for a new supply of brushes. In strict confidence, I drew certain conclusions from the colour of his nose! He had once had a family, but dropped them somewhere along the road. Most of our brisk neighbours would have put him down as a failure—an old man, and nothing laid by! But I wonder—I wonder. One thing I am coming to learn in this world, and that is to let people haggle along with their lives as I haggle along with mine.
We both made tremendous inroads on the luncheon, and I presume we might have sat there talking all the afternoon if I had not suddenly bethought myself with a not unpleasant thrill that my resting-place for the night was still gloriously undecided.
"Friend," I said, "I've got to be up and going. I haven't so much as a penny in my pocket, and I've got to find a place to sleep."
The effect of this remark upon Mr. Canfield was magical. He threw up both his hands and cried out:
"You're that way, are you?"—as though for the first time he really understood. We were at last on common ground.
"Partner," said he, "you needn't tell nothin' about it. I've been right there myself."
At once he began to bustle about with great enthusiasm. He was for taking complete charge of me, and I think, if I had permitted it, would instantly have made a brush-agent of me. At least he would have carried me along with him in his buggy; but when he suggested it I felt very much, I think, as some old monk must have who had taken a vow to do some particular thing in some particular way. With great difficulty I convinced him finally that my way was different from his—though he was regally impartial as to what road he took next—and, finally, with some reluctance, he started to climb into his buggy.
A thought, however, struck him suddenly, and he stepped down again, ran around to the box at the back of his buggy, opened it with a mysterious and smiling look at me, and took out a small broom-brush with which he instantly began brushing off my coat and trousers—in the liveliest and most exuberant way. When he had finished this occupation, he quickly handed the brush to me.
"A token of esteem," he said, "from a fellow traveller."
I tried in vain to thank him, but he held up his hand, scrambled quickly into his buggy, and was for driving off instantly, but paused and beckoned me toward him. When I approached the buggy, he took hold of one the lapels of my coat, bent over, and said with the utmost seriousness:
"No man ought to take the road without a brush. A good broom-brush is the world's greatest civilizer. Are you looking seedy or dusty?—why, this here brush will instantly make you a respectable citizen. Take my word for it, friend, never go into any strange house without stoppin' and brushin' off. It's money in your purse! You can get along without dinner sometimes, or even without a shirt, but without a brush—never! There's nothin' in the world so necessary to rich AN' poor, old AN' young as a good brush!"
And with a final burst of enthusiasm the brush-peddler drove off up the hill. I stood watching him and when he turned around I waved the brush high over my head in token of a grateful farewell.
It was a good, serviceable, friendly brush. I carried it throughout my wanderings; and as I sit here writing in my study, at this moment, I can see it hanging on a hook at the side of my fireplace.
CHAPTER III. THE HOUSE BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD
"Everyone," remarks Tristram Shandy, "will speak of the fair as his own market has gone in it."
It came near being a sorry fair for me on the afternoon following my parting with the amiable brush-peddler. The plain fact is, my success at the Stanleys', and the easy manner in which I had fallen in with Mr. Canfield, gave me so much confidence in myself as a sort of Master of the Road that I proceeded with altogether too much assurance.
I am firmly convinced that the prime quality to be cultivated by the pilgrim is humility of spirit; he must be willing to accept Adventure in whatever garb she chooses to present herself. He must be able to see the shining form of the unusual through the dull garments of the normal.
The fact is, I walked that afternoon with my head in air and passed many a pleasant farmstead where men were working in the fields, and many an open doorway, and a mill or two, and a town—always looking for some Great Adventure.
Somewhere upon this road, I thought to myself, I shall fall in with a Great Person, or become a part of a Great Incident. I recalled with keen pleasure the experience of that young Spanish student of Carlyle writes in one of his volumes, who, riding out from Madrid one day, came unexpectedly upon the greatest man in the world. This great man, of whom Carlyle observes (I have looked up the passage since I came home), "a kindlier, meeker, braver heart has seldom looked upon the sky in this world," had ridden out from the city for the last time in his life "to take one other look at the azure firmament and green mosaic pavements and the strange carpentry and arras work of this noble palace of a world."
As the old story has it, the young student "came pricking on hastily, complaining that they went at such a pace as gave him little chance of keeping up with them. One of the party made answer that the blame lay with the horse of Don Miguel de Cervantes, whose trot was of the speediest. He had hardly pronounced the name when the student dismounted and, touching the hem of Cervantes' left sleeve, said, 'Yes, yes, it is indeed the maimed perfection, the all-famous, the delightful writer, the joy and darling of the Muses! You are that brave Miguel.'"
It may seem absurd to some in this cool and calculating twentieth century that any one should indulge in such vain imaginings as I have described—and yet, why not? All things are as we see them. I once heard a man—a modern man, living to-day—tell with a hush in his voice, and a peculiar light in his eye, how, walking in the outskirts of an unromantic town in New Jersey, he came suddenly upon a vigorous, bearded, rather rough-looking man swinging his stick as he walked, and stopping often at the roadside and often looking up at the sky. I shall never forget the curious thrill in his voice as he said:
"And THAT was Walt Whitman."
And thus quite absurdly intoxicated by the possibilities of the road, I let the big full afternoon slip by—I let slip the rich possibilities of half a hundred farms and scores of travelling people—and as evening began to fall I came to a stretch of wilder country with wooded hills and a dashing stream by the roadside. It was a fine and beautiful country—to look at—but the farms, and with them the chances of dinner, and a friendly place to sleep, grew momentarily scarcer. Upon the hills here and there, indeed, were to be seen the pretentious summer homes of rich dwellers from the cities, but I looked upon them with no great hopefulness.
"Of all places in the world," I said to myself, "surely none could be more unfriendly to a man like me."
But I amused myself with conjectures as to what might happen (until the adventure seemed almost worth trying) if a dusty man with a bag on his back should appear at the door of one of those well-groomed establishments. It came to me, indeed, with a sudden deep sense of understanding, that I should probably find there, as everywhere else, just men and women. And with that I fell into a sort of Socratic dialogue with myself:
ME: Having decided that the people in these houses are, after all, merely men and women, what is the best way of reaching them?
MYSELF: Undoubtedly by giving them something they want and have not.
ME: But these are rich people from the city; what can they want that they have not?
MYSELF: Believe me, of all people in the world those who want the most are those who have the most. These people are also consumed with desires.
ME: And what, pray, do you suppose they desire?
MYSELF: They want what they have not got; they want the unattainable: they want chiefly the rarest and most precious of all things—a little mystery in their lives.
"That's it!" I said aloud; "that's it! Mystery—the things of the spirit, the things above ordinary living—is not that the essential thing for which the world is sighing, and groaning, and longing—consciously, or unconsciously?"
I have always believed that men in their innermost souls desire the highest, bravest, finest things they can hear, or see, or feel in all the world. Tell a man how he can increase his income and he will be grateful to you and soon forget you; but show him the highest, most mysterious things in his own soul and give him the word which will convince him that the finest things are really attainable, and he will love and follow you always.
I now began to look with much excitement to a visit at one of the houses on the hill, but to my disappointment I found the next two that I approached still closed up, for the spring was not yet far enough advanced to attract the owners to the country. I walked rapidly onward through the gathering twilight, but with increasing uneasiness as to the prospects for the night, and thus came suddenly upon the scene of an odd adventure.
From some distance I had seen a veritable palace set high among the trees and overlooking a wonderful green valley—and, drawing nearer, I saw evidences of well-kept roadways and a visible effort to make invisible the attempt to preserve the wild beauty of the place. I saw, or thought I saw, people on the wide veranda, and I was sure I heard the snort of a climbing motor-car, but I had scarcely decided to make my way up to the house when I came, at the turning of the country road, upon a bit of open land laid out neatly as a garden, near the edge of which, nestling among the trees, stood a small cottage. It seemed somehow to belong to the great estate above it, and I concluded, at the first glance, that it was the home of some caretaker or gardener.
It was a charming place to see, and especially the plantation of trees and shrubs. My eye fell instantly upon a fine magnolia—rare in this country—which had not yet cast all its blossoms, and I paused for a moment to look at it more closely. I myself have tried to raise magnolias near my house, and I know how difficult it is.
As I approached nearer to the cottage, I could see a man and woman sitting on the porch in the twilight and swaying back and forth in rocking-chairs. I fancied—it may have been only a fancy—that when I first saw them their hands were clasped as they rocked side by side.
It was indeed a charming little cottage. Crimson ramblers, giving promise of the bloom that was yet to come, climbed over one end of the porch, and there were fine dark-leaved lilac-bushes near the doorway: oh, a pleasant, friendly, quiet place!
I opened the front gate and walked straight in, as though I had at last reached my destination. I cannot give any idea of the lift of the heart with which I entered upon this new adventure. Without the premeditation and not knowing what I should say or do, I realized that everything depended upon a few sentences spoken within the next minute or two. Believe me, this experience to a man who does not know where his next meal is coming from, nor where he is to spend the night, is well worth having. It is a marvellous sharpener of the facts.
I knew, of course, just how these people of the cottage would ordinarily regard an intruder whose bag and clothing must infallibly class him as a follower of the road. And so many followers of the road are—well—
As I came nearer, the man and woman stopped rocking, but said nothing. An old dog that had been sleeping on the top step rose slowly and stood there.
"As I passed your garden," I said, grasping desperately for a way of approach, "I saw your beautiful specimen of the magnolia tree—the one still in blossom. I myself have tried to grow magnolias—but with small success—and I'm making bold to inquire what variety you are so successful with."
It was a shot in the air—but I knew from what I had seen that they must be enthusiastic gardeners. The man glanced around at the magnolia with evident pride, and was about to answer when the woman rose and with a pleasant, quiet cordiality said:
"Won't you step up and have a chair?"
I swung my bag from my shoulder and took the proffered seat. As I did so I saw, on the table just behind me a number magazines and books—books of unusual sizes and shapes, indicating that they were not mere summer novels.
"They like books!" I said to myself, with a sudden rise of spirits.
"I have tried magnolias, too," said the man, "but this is the only one that has been really successful. It is a Chinese white magnolia."
"The one Downing describes?" I asked.
This was also a random shot, but I conjectured that if they loved both books gardens they would know Downing—Bible of the gardener. And if they did, we belonged to the same church.
"The very same," exclaimed the woman; "it was Downing's enthusiasm for the Chinese magnolia which led us first to try it."
With that, like true disciples, we fell into great talk of Downing, at first all in praise of him, and later—for may not the faithful be permitted latitude in their comments so long as it is all within the cloister?—we indulged in a bit of higher criticism.
"It won't do," said the man, "to follow too slavishly every detail of practice as recommended by Downing. We have learned a good many things since the forties."
"The fact is," I said, "no literal-minded man should be trusted with Downing."
"Any more than with the Holy Scriptures," exclaimed the woman.
"Exactly!" I responded with the greatest enthusiasm; "exactly! We go to him for inspiration, for fundamental teachings, for the great literature and poetry of the art. Do you remember," I asked, "that passage in which Downing quotes from some old Chinaman upon the true secret of the pleasures of a garden—?"
"Do we?" exclaimed the man, jumping up instantly; "do we? Just let me get the book—"
With that he went into the house and came back immediately bringing a lamp in one hand—for it had grown pretty dark—and a familiar, portly, blue-bound book in the other. While he was gone the woman said:
"You have touched Mr. Vedder in his weakest spot."
"I know of no combination in this world," said I, "so certain to produce a happy heart as good books and a farm or garden."
Mr. Vedder, having returned, slipped on his spectacles, sat forward on the edge of his rocking-chair, and opened the book with pious hands.
"I'll find it," he said. "I can put my finger right on it."
"You'll find it," said Mrs. Vedder, "in the chapter on 'Hedges.'"
"You are wrong, my dear," he responded, "it is in 'Mistakes of Citizens in Country Life.'"
He turned the leaves eagerly.
"No," he said, "here it is in 'Rural Taste.' Let me read you the passage, Mr.—"
"—Mr. Grayson. The Chinaman's name was Lieu-tscheu. 'What is it,' asks this old Chinaman, 'that we seek in the pleasure of a garden? It has always been agreed that these plantations should make men amends for living at a distance from what would be their more congenial and agreeable dwelling-place—in the midst of nature, free and unrestrained.'"
"That's it," I exclaimed, "and the old Chinaman was right! A garden excuses civilization."
"It's what brought us here," said Mrs. Vedder.
With that we fell into the liveliest discussion of gardening and farming and country life in all their phases, resolving that while there were bugs and blights, and droughts and floods, yet upon the whole there was no life so completely satisfying as life in which one may watch daily the unfolding of natural life.
A hundred things we talked about freely that had often risen dimly in my own mind almost to the point—but not quite—of spilling over into articulate form. The marvellous thing about good conversation is that it brings to birth so many half-realized thoughts of our own—besides sowing the seed of innumerable other thought-plants. How they enjoyed their garden, those two, and not only the garden itself, but all the lore and poetry of gardening!
We had been talking thus an hour or more when, quite unexpectedly, I had what was certainly one of the most amusing adventures of my whole life. I can scarcely think of it now without a thrill of pleasure. I have had pay for my work in many but never such a reward as this.
"By the way," said Mr. Vedder, "I have recently come across a book which is full of the spirit of the garden as we have long known it, although the author is not treating directly of gardens, but of farming and of human nature."
"It is really all one subject," I interrupted.
"Certainly," said Mr. Vedder, "but many gardeners are nothing but gardeners. Well, the book to which I refer is called 'Adventures in Contentment,' and is by—Why, a man of your own name!"
With that Mr. Vedder reached for a book—a familiar-looking book—on the table, but Mrs. Vedder looked at me. I give you my word, my heart turned entirely over, and in a most remarkable way righted itself again; and I saw Roman candles and Fourth of July rockets in front of my eyes. Never in all my experience was I so completely bowled over. I felt like a small boy who has been caught in the pantry with one hand in the jam-pot—and plenty of jam on his nose. And like that small boy I enjoyed the jam, but did not like being caught at it.
Mr. Vedder had no sooner got the book in his hand than I saw Mrs. Vedder rising as though she had seen a spectre, and pointing dramatically at me, she exclaimed:
"You are David Grayson!"
I can say truthfully now that I know how the prisoner at the bar must feel when the judge, leaning over his desk, looks at him sternly and says:
"I declare you guilty of the offence as charged, and sentence you—" and so on, and so on.
Mr. Vedder stiffened up, and I can see him yet looking at me through his glasses. I must have looked as foolishly guilty as any man ever looked, for Mr. Vedder said promptly:
"Let me take you by the hand, sir. We know you, and have known you for a long time."
I shall not attempt to relate the conversation which followed, nor tell of the keen joy I had in it—after the first cold plunge. We found that we had a thousand common interests and enthusiasms. I had to tell them of my farm, and why I had left it temporarily, and of the experiences on the road. No sooner had I related what had befallen me at the Stanleys' than Mrs. Vedder disappeared into the house and came out again presently with a tray loaded with cold meat, bread, a pitcher of fine milk, and other good things.
"I shall not offer any excuses," said I, "I'm hungry," and with that I laid in, Mr. Vedder helping with the milk, and all three of us talking as fast as ever we could.
It was nearly midnight when at last Mr. Vedder led the way to the immaculate little bedroom where I spent the night.
The next morning I awoke early, and quietly dressing, slipped down to the garden and walked about among the trees and the shrubs and the flower-beds. The sun was just coming up over the hill, the air was full of the fresh odours of morning, and the orioles and cat-birds were singing.
In the back of the garden I found a charming rustic arbour with seats around a little table. And here I sat down to listen to the morning concert, and I saw, cut or carved upon the table, this verse, which so pleased me that I copied it in my book:
A garden is a lovesome thing, God wot! Rose plot, Fringed pool, Ferned grot— The veriest school of peace; and yet the fool Contends that God is not— Not God! in gardens? when the even is cool? Nay, but I have a sign, 'Tis very sure God walks in mine.
I looked about after copying this verse, and said aloud:
"I like this garden: I like these Vedders."
And with that I had a moment of wild enthusiasm.
"I will come," I said, "and buy a little garden next them, and bring Harriet, and we will live here always. What's a farm compared with a friend?"
But with that I thought of the Scotch preacher, and of Horace, and Mr. and Mrs. Starkweather, and I knew I could never leave the friends at home.
"It's astonishing how many fine people there are in this world," I said aloud; "one can't escape them!"
"Good morning, David Grayson," I heard some one saying, and glancing up I saw Mrs. Vedder at the doorway. "Are you hungry?"
"I am always hungry," I said.
Mr. Vedder came out and linking his arm in mine and pointing out various spireas and Japanese barberries, of which he was very proud, we walked into the house together.
I did not think of it especially at time—Harriet says I never see anything really worth while, by which she means dishes, dresses, doilies, and such like but as I remembered afterward the table that Mrs. Vedder set was wonderfully dainty—dainty not merely with flowers (with which it was loaded), but with the quality of the china and silver. It was plainly the table of no ordinary gardener or caretaker—but this conclusion did not come to me until afterward, for as I remember it, we were in a deep discussion of fertilizers.
Mrs. Vedder cooked and served breakfast herself, and did it with a skill almost equal to Harriet's—so skillfully that the talk went on and we never once heard the machinery of service.
After breakfast we all went out into the garden, Mrs. Vedder in an old straw hat and a big apron, and Mr. Vedder in a pair of old brown overalls. Two men had appeared from somewhere, and were digging in the vegetable garden. After giving them certain directions Mr. Vedder and I both found five-tined forks and went into the rose garden and began turning over the rich soil, while Mrs. Vedder, with pruning-shears, kept near us, cutting out the dead wood.
It was one of the charming forenoons of my life. This pleasant work, spiced with the most interesting conversation and interrupted by a hundred little excursions into other parts of the garden, to see this or that wonder of vegetation, brought us to dinner-time before we fairly knew it.
About the middle of the afternoon I made the next discovery. I heard first the choking cough of a big motor-car in the country road, and a moment later it stopped at our gate. I thought I saw the Vedders exchanging significant glances. A number of merry young people tumbled out, and an especially pretty girl of about twenty came running through the garden.
"Mother," she exclaimed, "you MUST come with us!"
"I can't, I can't," said Mrs. Vedder, "the roses MUST be pruned—and see! The azaleas are coming into bloom."
With that she presented me to her daughter.
And, then, shortly, for it could no longer be concealed, I learned that Mr. and Mrs. Vedder were not the caretakers but the owners of the estate and of the great house I had seen on the hill. That evening, with an air almost of apology, they explained to me how it all came about.
"We first came out here," said Mrs. Vedder, "nearly twenty years ago, and built the big house on the hill. But the more we came to know of country life the more we wanted to get down into it. We found it impossible up there—so many unnecessary things to see to and care for—and we couldn't—we didn't see—"
"The fact is," Mr. Vedder put in, "we were losing touch with each other."
"There is nothing like a big house," said Mrs. Vedder, "to separate a man and his wife."
"So we came down here," said Mr. Vedder, "built this little cottage, and developed this garden mostly with our own hands. We would have sold the big house long ago if it hadn't been for our friends. They like it."
"I have never heard a more truly romantic story," said I.
And it WAS romantic: these fine people escaping from too many possessions, too much property, to the peace and quietude of a garden where they could be lovers again.
"It seems, sometimes," said Mrs. Vedder, "that I never really believed in God until we came down here—"
"I saw the verse on the table in the arbour," said I.
"And it is true," said Mr. Vedder. "We got a long, long way from God for many years: here we seem to get back to Him."
I had fully intended to take the road again that afternoon, but how could any one leave such people as those? We talked again late that night, but the next morning, at the leisurely Sunday breakfast, I set my hour of departure with all the firmness I could command. I left them, indeed, before ten o'clock that forenoon. I shall never forget the parting. They walked with me to the top of the hill, and there we stopped and looked back. We could see the cottage half hidden among the trees, and the little opening that the precious garden made. For a time we stood there quite silent.
"Do you remember," I said presently, "that character in Homer who was a friend of men and lived in a house by the side of the road? I shall always think of you as friends of men—you took in a dusty traveller. And I shall never forget your house by the side of the road."
"The House by the Side of the Road—you have christened it anew, David Grayson," exclaimed Mrs. Vedder.
And so we parted like old friends, and I left them to return to their garden, where "'tis very sure God walks."
CHAPTER IV. I AM THE SPECTATOR OF A MIGHTY BATTLE, IN WHICH CHRISTIAN MEETS APPOLLYON
It is one of the prime joys of the long road that no two days are ever remotely alike—no two hours even; and sometimes a day that begins calmly will end with the most stirring events.
It was thus, indeed, with that perfect spring Sunday, when I left my friends, the Vedders, and turned my face again to the open country. It began as quietly as any Sabbath morning of my life, but what an end it had! I would have travelled a thousand miles for the adventures which a bounteous road that day spilled carelessly into my willing hands.
I can give no adequate reason why it should be so, but there are Sunday mornings in the spring—at least in our country—which seem to put on, like a Sabbath garment, an atmosphere of divine quietude. Warm, soft, clear, but, above all, immeasurably serene.
Such was that Sunday morning; and I was no sooner well afoot than I yielded to the ingratiating mood of the day. Usually I am an active walker, loving the sense of quick motion and the stir it imparts to both body and mind, but that morning I found myself loitering, looking widely about me, and enjoying the lesser and quieter aspects of nature. It was a fine wooded country in which I found myself, and I soon struck off the beaten road and took to the forest and the fields. In places the ground was almost covered with meadow-rue, like green shadows on the hillsides, not yet in seed, but richly umbrageous. In the long green grass of the meadows shone the yellow star-flowers, and the sweet-flags were blooming along the marshy edges of the ponds. The violets had disappeared, but they were succeeded by wild geraniums and rank-growing vetches.
I remember that I kept thinking from time to time, all the forenoon, as my mind went back swiftly and warmly to the two fine friends from whom I had so recently parted:
How the Vedders would enjoy this! Or, I must tell the Vedders that. And two or three times I found myself in animated conversations with them in which I generously supplied all three parts. It may be true for some natures, as Leonardo said, that "if you are alone you belong wholly to yourself; if you have a companion, you belong only half to yourself"; but it is certainly not so with me. With me friendship never divides: it multiplies. A friend always makes me more than I am, better than I am, bigger than I am. We two make four, or fifteen, or forty.
Well, I loitered through the fields and woods for a long time that Sunday forenoon, not knowing in the least that Chance held me close by the hand and was leading me onward to great events. I knew, of course, that I had yet to find a place for the night, and that this might be difficult on Sunday, and yet I spent that forenoon as a man spends his immortal youth—with a glorious disregard for the future.
Some time after noon—for the sun was high and the day was growing much warmer—I turned from the road, climbed an inviting little hill, and chose a spot in an old meadow in the shade of an apple tree and there I lay down on the grass, and looked up into the dusky shadows of the branches above me. I could feel the soft airs on my face; I could hear the buzzing of bees in the meadow flowers, and by turning my head just a little I could see the slow fleecy clouds, high up, drifting across the perfect blue of the sky. And the scent of the fields in spring!—he who has known it, even once, may indeed die happy.
Men worship God in various ways: it seemed to me that Sabbath morning, as I lay quietly there in the warm silence of midday, that I was truly worshipping God. That Sunday morning everything about me seemed somehow to be a miracle—a miracle gratefully accepted and explainable only by the presence of God. There was another strange, deep feeling which I had that morning, which I have had a few other times in my life at the rare heights of experience—I hesitate always when I try to put down the deep, deep things of the human heart—a feeling immeasurably real, that if I should turn my head quickly I should indeed SEE that Immanent Presence....
One of the few birds I know that sings through the long midday is the vireo. The vireo sings when otherwise the woods are still. You do not see him; you cannot find him; but you know he is there. And his singing is wild, and shy, and mystical. Often it haunts you like the memory of some former happiness. That day I heard the vireo singing....
I don't know how long I lay there under the tree in the meadow, but presently I heard, from no great distance, the sound of a church-bell. It was ringing for the afternoon service which among the farmers of this part of the country often takes the place, in summer, of both morning and evening services.
"I believe I'll go," I said, thinking first of all, I confess, of the interesting people I might meet there.
But when I sat up and looked about me the desire faded, and rummaging in my bag I came across my tin whistle. Immediately I began practising a tune called "Sweet Afton," which I had learned when a boy; and, as I played, my mood changed swiftly, and I began to smile at myself as a tragically serious person, and to think of pat phrases with which to characterize the execrableness of my attempts upon the tin whistle. I should have liked some one near to joke with.
Long ago I made a motto about boys: Look for a boy anywhere. Never be surprised when you shake a cherry tree if a boy drops out of it; never be disturbed when you think yourself in complete solitude if you discover a boy peering out at you from a fence corner.
I had not been playing long before I saw two boys looking at me from out of a thicket by the roadside; and a moment later two others appeared.
Instantly I switched into "Marching Through Georgia," and began to nod my head and tap my toe in the liveliest fashion. Presently one boy climbed up on the fence, then another, then a third. I continued to play. The fourth boy, a little chap, ventured to climb up on the fence.
They were bright-faced, tow-headed lads, all in Sunday clothes.
"It's hard luck," said I, taking my whistle from my lips, "to have to wear shoes and stockings on a warm Sunday like this."
"You bet it is!" said the bold leader.
"In that case," said I, "I will play 'Yankee Doodle.'"
I played. All the boys, including the little chap, came up around me, and two of them sat down quite familiarly on the grass. I never had a more devoted audience. I don't know what interesting event might have happened next, for the bold leader, who stood nearest, was becoming dangerously inflated with questions—I don't know what might have happened had we not been interrupted by the appearance of a Spectre in Black. It appeared before us there in the broad daylight in the middle of a sunny afternoon while we were playing "Yankee Doodle." First I saw the top of a black hat rising over the rim of the hill. This was followed quickly by a black tie, a long black coat, black trousers, and, finally, black shoes. I admit I was shaken, but being a person of iron nerve in facing such phenomena, I continued to play "Yankee Doodle." In spite of this counter-attraction, toward which all four boys turned uneasy glances, I held my audience. The Black Spectre, with a black book under its arm, drew nearer. Still I continued to play and nod my head and tap my toe. I felt like some modern Pied Piper piping away the children of these modern hills—piping them away from older people who could not understand them.
I could see an accusing look on the Spectre's face. I don't know what put it into my head, and I had no sooner said it than I was sorry for my levity, but the figure with the sad garments there in the matchless and triumphant spring day affected me with a curious, sharp impatience. Had any one the right to look out so dolefully upon such a day and such a scene of simple happiness as this? So I took my whistle from my lips and asked: