MEMORIES OF A NEW ENGLAND YEAR
W. Hamilton Gibson
HARPER & BROTHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1880, by
HARPER & BROTHERS,
WILLIAM HAMILTON GIBSON
AS far as the eye can reach, the snow lies in a deep mantle over the cheerless landscape. I look out upon a dreary moor, where the horizon melts into the cold gray of a heavy sky. The restless wind sweeps with pitiless blast through shivering trees and over bleak hills, from whose crests, like a great white veil, the clouds of hoary flakes are lifted and drawn along by the gale. Down the upland slope, across the undulating field, the blinding drift, like a thing of life, speeds in its wild caprice, now swirling in fantastic eddies around some isolated stack, half hidden in its chill embrace, now winding away over bare-blown wall and scraggy fence, and through the sighing willows near the frozen stream; now with a wild whirl it flies aloft, and the dark pines and hemlocks on the mountain-side fade away in its icy mist. Again, yonder it appears trailing along the meadow, until, flying like some fugitive spirit chased from earth by the howling wind, it vanishes in the sky. On every side these winged phantoms lead their flying chase across the dreary landscape, and fence and barn and house upon the hill in turn are dimmed or lost to sight.
Who has not watched the strange antics of the drifting snow whirling past the window on a blustering winter’s day? But this is not a winter’s day. This is the advent of a New England spring.
Fortunate are we that its promises are not fulfilled, for the ides of March might as oft betoken the approach of a tempestuous winter as of a balmy spring. Consecrated to Mars and Tantalus, it is a month of contradictions and disappointments, of broken promises and incessant warfare. It is the struggle of tender awakening life against the buffetings of rude and blighting elements. No man can tell what a day may bring forth. Now we look out verily upon bleak December; to-morrow—who knows?—we may be transported into May, and, with aspirations high, feel our ardor cooled by a blast of ice and a blinding fall of snow. But this cannot always last, for soon the southern breezes come and hold their sway for days, and the north wind, angry in its defeat, is driven back in lowering clouds to the region of eternal ice and snow. Then comes a lovely day, without even a cloud—all blue above, all dazzling white below. The sun shines with a glowing warmth, and we say unto ourselves, “This is, indeed, a harbinger of spring.” The sugar-maples throb and trickle with the flowing sap, and the lumbering ox-team and sled wind through the woods from tree to tree to relieve the overflowing buckets. The boiling caldron in the sugar-house near by receives the continual supply, and gives forth that sweet-scented steam that issues from the open door, and comes to us in occasional welcome whiffs across the snow. Long “wedges” of wild-geese are seen cleaving the sky in their northward flight. The little pussies on the willows are coaxed from their winter nest, and creep out upon the stem. The solitary bluebird makes his appearance, flitting along the thickets and stone walls with little hesitating warble, as if it were not yet the appointed time to sing; and down among the bogs, that cautious little pioneer, the swamp-cabbage flower, peers above the ground beneath his purple-spotted hood. He knows the fickle month which gives him birth, and keeps well under cover.
Such days in March are too perfect to endure, and at night the sky is overcast and dark. Then follows a long warm rain that unlocks the ice in all the streams. The whiteness of the hills and meadows melts into broad contracting strips and patches. One by one, as mere specks upon the landscape, these vanish in turn, until the last vestige of winter is washed from the face of the earth to swell the tide of the rushing stream. Even now, from the distant valley, we hear a continuous muffled roar, as the mighty freshet, impelled by an irresistible force, ploughs its tortuous channel through the lowlands and ravines. The quiet town is filled with an unusual commotion. Excited groups of towns-people crowd the village store, and eager voices tell of the havoc wrought by the fearful flood. We hear how the old toll-bridge, with tollman’s house and all, was lifted from its piers like a pile of straw, and whirled away upon the current. How its floating timbers, in a great blockade, crushed into the old mill-pond; how the dam had burst, and the rickety red saw-mill gone to pieces down the stream. Farmer Nathan’s barn had gone, and his flat meadows were like a whirling sea, strewn with floating rails and driftwood. Every hour records its new disaster as some eager messenger returns from the excited crowds which line the river-bank. How well I remember the fascinating excitement of the spring freshet as I watched the rising water in the big swamp lot, anxious lest it might creep up and undermine the wall foundations of the barn! And what a royal raft I made from the drifting logs and beams, and with the spirit of an adventurous explorer sailed out on the deep gliding current, floating high among the branches of the half submerged willow-trees, and scraping over the tips of the tallest alder-bushes, whose highest twigs now hardly reached the surface! How deep and dark the water looked as I lay upon the raft and peered into the depths below! But this jolly fun was of but short duration. The flood soon subsided, and on the following morning nothing was seen excepting the settlings of débris strewn helter-skelter over the meadow, and hanging on all the bushes.
The tepid rain has penetrated deep into the yielding ground, and with the winter’s frost now coming to the surface, the roads are well-nigh impassable with their plethora of mud. For a full appreciation of mud in all its glory, and in its superlative degree, one should see a New England highway “when the frost comes out of the ground.” The roads are furrowed with deep grimy ruts, in which the bedabbled wheels sink to their hubs as in a quicksand, and the hoofs of the floundering horse are held in the swampy depths as if in a vise. For a week or more this state of things continues, until at length, after warm winds and sunny days, the ground once more packs firm beneath the tread. This marks the close of idle days. The junk pile in the barn is invaded, and the rusty plough abstracted from the midst of rakes and scythes and other farming tools. The old white horse thrusts his long head from the stall near by, and whinnies at the memories it revives, and with pricked-up ears and whisking tail tells plainly of the eagerness he feels.
Back and forth through the sloping lot the ploughman slowly turns the dingy sward, and in the rich brown furrow, following in his track, we see the cackling troop of hens, and the lordly rooster, with great ado, searches out the dainty tidbits for his motley crowd of favorites. The whole landscape has become infused with human life and motion. Wherever the eye may turn it sees the evidences of varied and hopeful industry. Yonder we notice an oft-recurring little puff of mist, like a burlesque snow-drift, ever and anon bursting into view, and softly vanishing against the sward; another glance detects the slow progress of horse and cart, as the farmer sows his load of plaster across the whitening field. Farther up, where the brow of the hill stands clear against the sky, a pacing figure, with measured sweep of arm, scatters the handfuls of wheat, and team and harrow soon are in his path, combing and crumbling the dark-brown mould. High curling wreaths of smoke wind upward from the flat swamp lot beyond, where hilarious boys enjoy both work and play in burning off the brush. Here we shall see the first welcome nibble of fresh grass for the poor bereaved cow, whose lamenting bleat now echoes through the barn near by; and for those oxen, too, that with swaying, clumsy gait lug the huge roller across the neighboring field. And what strange yells and exclamations guide them in their labored progress! “Ho back! Gee up, ahoy! Ho haw!” From every direction, in voices near, and others faint with distance, we hear this same queer jargon. Who could believe that so much good work hung upon the incessant reiteration of that brief and monotonous vocabulary? Rather would we listen to the musical ring of the laughing children riding on the big “brush harrow” down through that barn-yard lane beyond. Now they are out upon the broken ground where John has strewn the “compost” to be “brushed in.” A broad flat wake follows them around the field, and that same troop of hens and turkeys revel in the lively feast spread out before them in the loose upturning.
So runs the record of a busy day in the early New England springtime, and with its all-absorbing industry it is a day that passes quickly. The afternoon runs into evening. Cool shadows creep across the landscape as the glowing sun sinks through the still bare and leafless trees and disappears behind the wooded hills. The fields are now deserted, and through the uncertain twilight we see the little knots of workmen with their swinging pails, and hear their tramp along the homeward road. In the dim shadows of the evergreens beyond, a faint gray object steals into view. Now it stops at the old watering-trough, and I hear the sip of the eager horse and the splash of overflowing water. Some belated ploughman, fresh, perhaps, from a half-hour’s gossip at the village store. I hear the sound of hoofs upon the stones as they renew their way, the dragging of the chain upon the gravelly bed, and the receding form is lost in the darkening road. One by one the scattered barns and houses have disappeared in the gathering dusk, marked only by the faint columns of blue smoke that rise above the trees, and melt away against the twilight sky. I look out upon a wilderness of gloom, where all above is still and clear, and all below is wrapped in impenetrable mystery. A plaintive piping trill now breaks the impressive stillness. Again and again I hear the little lonely voice vibrating through the low-lying mist. It is only a little frog in some far-off marsh; but what a sweet sense of sadness is awakened by that lowly melody! How its weird minor key, with its magic touch, unlocks the treasures of the heart. Only the peeping of a frog; but where in all the varied voices of the night, where, even among the great chorus of nature’s sweetest music, is there another song so lulling in its dreamy melody, so full of that emotive charm which quickens the human heart? How often in the vague spring twilight have I yielded to the strange, fascinating melancholy awakened by the frog’s low murmur at the water’s edge! How many times have I lingered near some swampy roadside bog, and let these little wizards weave their mystic spell about my willing senses, while the very air seemed to quiver in the fulness of their song! I remember the tangle of tall and withered rushes, through whose mysterious depths the eye in vain would strive to penetrate at the sound of some faint splash or ripple, or perhaps at the quaint, high-keyed note of some little isolated hermit, piping in his sombre solitude. I recall the first glimpse of the rising moon, as its great golden face peered out at me from over the distant hill, enclosing half the summit against its broad and luminous surface. Slowly and steadily it seemed to steal into view, until, risen in all its fulness, I caught its image in the trembling ripples at the edge of the soggy pool, where the palpitating water responded to the frog’s low, tremulous monotone. Higher and higher it sails across the inky sky, its glow now changed to a silvery pallor, across whose white halo, in a floating film, the ghostly clouds glide in their silent flight. A dull tinkling of some distant cow-bell breaks the spell, and recalls my wandering thoughts, and as I again take up my way along the moonlit road, the glimmering windows on right and left betray the hiding-places of a score of humble homes. Not far beyond I see the swinging motion of a flickering lantern, as some tardy farmer’s boy, whistling about his work, clears up his nightly chores. Now he enters the old barn-door. I see the light glinting through the open cracks, and hear the lowing of the cows, the bleating of the baby-calf, and rattling chains of oxen in the stanchion rows. Now again I catch the gleam at the open door; the swinging light flits across the yard, and the old corn-crib starts from its obscurity. I see the boyish figure relieved against the glow within as a basketful of yellow ears are gathered for the impatient mouths in the noisy manger stalls. Sing on, my boy, enjoy it while you may! That venerable barn will yield a fragrance to you in after-life that will conjure up in your heart a throng of memories as countless as the shining grains that glimmer in the light you hold, and as golden, too, as they. I wonder if those soft-winged bats squeak among the clapboards, or make their fluttering zigzag swoops about your lantern as they were wont to do in olden times.
Then there was that big-eyed owl, too, that perched upon the maple-tree outside my window, and cried as if its heart would break at the doleful tidings it foretold. What a world of kind solicitude that dolorous bird awakened in our superstitious neighbor across the road! How she overwhelmed us with her sympathy, aroused by that sepulchral omen! But I still live, and so does the owl, for aught I know; and I sometimes think that this aged, stooping dame over the way has never fully recovered from her disappointment, for she always greets me with a sigh and an injured expression, as she says, in her high and tremulous voice, “Well! well! back agin ez hale ’n hearty ’s ever; an’ arter the way thet ar witch bird yewst teu call ye, too, night arter night. Jest teu think on’t! an’ we’d all a’ gi’n ye up fer sartin. Well! well! I never see the beat on’t. Yen deu seem teu hang on paowerful;” and, after a moment’s hesitation, seemingly in which to swallow the bitter pill, she usually adds, with sad solicitude, “Feelin’ perty tol’ble teu, I spose?” But the “witch bird” never roused my serious apprehensions. I remember its plaintive cry only as a tender bit of pathos in the pages of my early history.
I recall, too, the pleasant sound upon the shingles overhead as the dark-clouded sky let fall its tell-tale drops to warn us of the coming rain. How many times have I glided into dream-land under the drowsy influence of the patter on the roof, and the ever varying tattoo upon the tin beneath the dripping eaves! Who can forget those rainy days, with their games of hide-and-seek in the old dark garret! How we looked out upon the muddy puddled road, and laughed at the great drifting sheets of water that ever and anon poured down from some bursting cloud, and roared upon the roof! And as the driving rain beat against the blurred window-panes, what strange capers the squirming tree-trunks outside seemed to play for our amusement: the dark door-way of the barn, too—now swelling out to twice its size, now stretching long and thin, or dividing in the middle in its queer contortions. Out in the dismal barn-yard we saw the forlorn row of hens huddled together on the hay-rick, under the drizzling straw-thatched shed; and the gabled coop near by, in whose dry retreat the motherly old hen spread her tawny wings, and yielded the warmth of her ruffled breast to the tender needs of her little family, peeping so contentedly beneath her. The rain-proof ducks dabble in the neighboring puddles, and chew the muddy water in search of floating dainties, or gulp with nodding heads the unlucky angle-worms which come struggling to the surface—drowned out of their subterranean tunnels.
Now we hear the snapping of the latch at the foot of the garret stairs, and we are called to come and see a little outcast that John has brought in from the wood-pile. Close beside the kitchen-stove a doubled piece of blanket lies upon the floor, and within its folds we find what once was a downy little chicken, now drenched and dying from exposure. He was a naughty, wayward child, and would persist in thinking that he knew more than his mother. At least so I was told—indeed, it was impressed upon me. But the little fellow was rescued just in time. The warmth will soon revive him, and by-and-by we shall hear his little chirp and see him trot around the kitchen-floor, pecking at that everlasting fly, perhaps, or at some tiny red-hot coal that snaps out from the stove.
Little did we suspect the mission of those rainy days, so drear and dismal without, or the sweet surprise preparing for us in the myriad mysteries of life beneath the sod, where every root and thread-like rootlet in the thirsty earth was drinking in that welcome moisture, and numberless sleeping germs, dwelling in darkness, were awakening into life to seek the light of day, waiting only for the glory of a sunny dawn to burst forth from their hiding-places! That sunny morn does come at last, and in its beams it sheds abroad a power that stirs the deepest root. It is, indeed, a glorious day. The clustered buds upon the silver-maples burst in their exuberance, and fringe the graceful branches with their silken tassels. The restless crocus, for months an unwilling captive in its winter prison, can contain itself no longer, and with its little overflowing cup lifts up its face to the blue heaven. Golden daffodils burst into bloom on drooping stems, and exchange their little nods on right and left. The air is filled with a faint perfume, in which the very earth mould yields its fragrance—that wild aroma only known to spring. Our little feathered friends, so few and far between as yet, are full of song. The bluebird wooes his mate with a loving warble, full of tender sweetness, as they flit among the swaying twigs, or pry with diligent search for some snug nesting-place among the hollow crannies of the orchard trees. The noisy blackbirds hold high carnival in the top of the old pine-tree, the woodpecker taps upon the hollow limb his resonant tattoo, and the hungry crows, like a posse of tramps, hang around the great oak-tree upon the knoll, and watch to see what they can steal. Down through the meadow the gurgling stream babbles as of old, and along its fretted banks the alder thickets are hanging full with drooping catkins swinging at every breeze. The glossy willow-buds throw off their coat of fur, and plume themselves in their wealth of inflorescence, lighting up the brook-side with a yellow glow, and exhaling a fresh, delicious perfume. Here, too, we hear the rattling screech of the swooping kingfisher, as with quick beats of wing he skims along the surface of the stream, and with an ascending glide settles upon the overhanging branch above the ripples. All these and a thousand more I vividly recall from the memory of that New England spring; but sweetest of all its manifold surprises was that crowning consummation, that miracle of a single night, bringing on countless wings through the early morning mist the welcome chorus of the returning flocks of birds. How they swarmed the orchard and the elms, where but yesterday the bluebird held his sway! Now we see the fiery oriole in his gold and jetty velvet flashing in the morning sun, and robins without number swell their ruddy throats in a continuous roundelay of song. The pert cat-bird in his Quaker garb is here, and with flippant jerk of tail and impertinent mew bustles about among the arbor-vitæs, where even now are remnants of his last year’s nest. The puffy wrens, too, what saucy, sputtering little bursts of glee are theirs as they strut upon the rustic boxes in the maples! The fields are vocal with their sweet spring medley, in which the happy carols of the linnets and the song sparrows form a continuous pastoral. Now we hear the mellow bell of the wood thrush echoing from some neighboring tree, and all intermingled with the chatter and the gossip of the martens on their lofty house. Birds in the sky, birds in the trees and on the ground, birds everywhere, and not a silent throat among them; but from far and near, from mountain-side and meadow, from earth and sky, uniting in a happy choral of perpetual jubilee.
Down in the moist green swamp lot the yellow cowslips bloom along the shallow ditch, and the eager farmer’s wife fills her basket with the succulent leaves she has been watching for so long; for they’ll tell you in New England that “they ain’t noth’n’ like caowslips for a mess o’ greens.” Near by we see the frog pond, with lush growth of arrow leaves and pickerel weed, and flat blades of blue-flag just starting from the boggy earth. Half submerged upon a lily pad, close by the water’s edge, an ugly toad sits watching for some winged morsel for that ample mouth of his.
Who could believe that so much poetic inspiration could emerge from such a mouth as that; for verily it is this miserable-looking toad that lifts his little voice in the dreamy, drowsy chorus of the twilight. All sorts of odium have been heaped upon the innocent toad; but he only returns good for evil. He is the farmer’s faithful friend. He guards his garden by day, and lulls him to sleep by night. Yonder, near those withered cat-tails, we see the village boys among the calamus-beds, pulling up the long white roots tipped with pink and fringed with trickling rootlets. What visions of candied flag-root stimulate them in their zeal! I can almost see the tender, juicy leaf-bud screened beneath that smooth pink sheath, and its aromatic pungency is as fresh and real to me as this appetizing fragrance that comes to us from the green tufts of spearmint we crush beneath our feet at every step. Bevies of swallows all around us skim through the air, like feathered darts, in their twittering flight; and the restless starling, like a field-marshal, with his scarlet epaulets, keeps sharp lookout for the enemy, and “flutes his O-ka-lee” from the high alder-bush at the slightest approach upon his chosen ground. Yonder on the wooded slope the feathery shad-tree blooms, like a suspended cloud of drifting snow lingering among the gray twigs and branches; and chasing across the matted leaves beneath, a lively troop of youngsters, girls and boys, make the woods resound with their boisterous jubilee. A jolly band of fugitives fresh from the stormy week’s captivity—spring buds bursting with life, with a pent-up store of spirits that finds escape in an effervescence of ringing laughs and in a din of incessant jabber. Well I know the buoyant exhilaration that impels them on in their reckless frolic, as they skip from stone to stone across the rippling stream, or “stump” each other on the treacherous crossing-pole which spans the deep still current! Now I see them huddle around the trickling grotto among the mossy bowlders in the steep gully yonder, where the mountain spring bubbles into a crystal pool. Alas! how quickly its faint blue border of hepaticas is rifled by the ruthless mob! Now they clamber up the great gray rocks beneath the drooping hemlocks, stopping in their headlong zeal to snatch some trembling cluster of anemone, nodding from its velvety bed of moss; now plunging down on hands and knees, shedding innocent blood among an unsuspecting colony of fragile bloom—those glowing blossoms so welcome in the early spring! Who does not know the bloodroot—that shy recluse hiding away among the mountain nooks, that emblem of chaste purity with its bridal ring of purest gold? Who has not seen its tender leaf-wrapped buds lifting the matted leaves, and spreading their galaxy of snowy stars along the woodland path?
Then there was the shy arbutus, too. Where in all the world’s bouquet is there another such a darling of a flower? And where in all New England does that darling show so full and sweet a face as in its home upon that sunny slope I have in mind, and know so well? Was ever such a fragrant tufted carpet spread beneath a hesitating foot? Even now, along the lichen-dappled wall upon the summit, I see the lingering strip of snow, gritty and speckled, and at its very edge, hiding beneath the covering leaves, those modest little faces looking out at me—faces which seemed to blush a deeper pink at their rude discovery. No other flower can breathe the perfume of the arbutus, that earthy, spicy fragrance, which seems as though distilled from the very leaf-mould at its roots. Often on this sunny slope, so sheltered by dense pines and hemlocks, have these charming clusters, pink and white, burst into bloom beneath the snow in March; and even on a certain late February day, we discovered a little, solitary clump, fully spread, and fairly ruddy with the cold. Here, too, we found the earliest sprays of the slender maidenhair; that fairy frond and loveliest among ferns, with black and lustrous stems, and graceful spread of tender gauzy green.
Where was the nook in all that hill-side woods that we left unsearched in our April ramblings? I recall the “tat,” “tat” upon the dry carpet of beech leaves, as the delicate anemone in my hand is dashed by a falling drop! Lost in eager occupation, we had not observed the shadow that had stolen through the forest; and now, as we look out through the trees, we see the steel-blue warning of the coming shower, and feel the first gust of the tell-tale breeze—how the willows wave and gleam against the deep gray clouds, so weirdly reflected in the gliding stream beneath, like an open seam to another sky! See the silvery flashes of that flock of pigeons circling against the lurid background. No, we cannot stop to see them, for the rain-drops begin to patter thick and fast. Away we scamper to the shelter of the overhanging rocks. The lowering sky rolls above us through the branches. The glassy surface of the brook takes on a leaden hue as the rain-cloud drags its misty veil across the distant meadows. The brown leaves jump and spatter at my feet, and the blue liverwort flowers on right and left duck their heads like little living things dodging the pelting rain-drops.
Oh, the lovely fickleness an April day! Even now the distant hill is lit up by the bursting sun. Nearer and nearer the gleam creeps across the landscape, chasing the shower away, and in a moment more the meadows glow with a freshened green, and the trees stand transfigured in glistening beads flashing in the sunbeams. The quickened earth gives forth its grateful incense, and even an enthusiastic frog down in the lily-pond sends up his little vote of thanks.
April’s woods are teeming with all forms of life, if one will only look for them. On every side the ferns, curled up all winter in their dormant sleep, unroll their spiral sprays, and reach out for the welcome sun. The spicy colt’s-foot, or wild ginger, lifts its downy leaves among the mossy rocks and crevices, and its homely flower just peeps above the ground, and, with a lingering glance at the blushing Rue anemone close by, hangs its humble head, never to look up again. High above us the eccentric cottonwood-tree dangles its long speckled plumes, so silvery white. Now we hear a mellow drumming sound, as some unsuspecting grouse, concealed among the undergrowth near by, beats his resonant breast. Could we but get a glimpse of him, we would see him simulate the barn-yard gobbler, as with proud strut and spreading tail he disports himself upon some fallen log or mossy rock. Perhaps, too, that coy mate is near, admiring his show of gallantry, and holding a sly flirtation.
Look at this craggy precipice of rock, lost above among the green-tasselled evergreens, and trickling with crystal drops from every drooping sprig of moss. How its rugged surface is painted with the mottled lichens of every hue, here like a faint tinge of cool sage-green, and there in large brown blotches of rich color! See the fringe of ferns that bursts from the fissure across its surface. There the trillium hangs its three-cleft flower of rich maroon; and later we shall see the fern-like spray of Solomon’s-seal swinging its little row of straw-colored bells from the ledge above. Airy columbines, too, shall float their scarlet pendants on fragile stems, and with their graceful nod tell of the slightest breeze, when all else is still. What is that cinnamon-brown bird that hops along the stone wall yonder? Now he alights upon the tulip-tree, and swells his speckled breast in a series of short experiments—a broken song, in which every note or call has its twin echo. A “mocking-thrush” he is, indeed, for he mimics his own song from morn till night in all the thickets and pasture-lands. Take care there! why, you almost trod upon that feathery tuft of “Dutchman’s breeches.” Oh, who is he that dared to clothe this sweet blossom in such an ignominious title? Where is the Dutchman that ever wore unmentionables of such exquisite pink satin as that pale dicentra wears? No wonder their little broken hearts droop at the insult!
The grotesque Jack-in-the-pulpit, rising above that crumbling log, is named more to my mind. There he stands beneath his striped canopy, and preaches to me a sermon on the well-remembered rashness of my youth in trifling with that subterranean bulb from which he grows. But I ignored his warning in those early days. I only knew that a real nice boy across the way seemed very fond of those little Indian turnips, called them “sugar-roots,” and said that they were full of honey. And as he bit off his eager mouthful, and refused to let me taste, I sought one for myself, and, generous boy that he was, he showed me where to find the buried treasure. It was like a small turnip, an innocent-looking affair (and so was the nice boy’s modelled piece of apple, by-the-way). But oh! the sudden revelation of the red-hot reservoir of chain-lightning that crammed that innocent bulb! Even as I think of it, how I long once more to interview that real nice boy who opened up the mysteries of the “sugar-root” to my tempted curiosity. Let boys beware of this wild, red-hot coal; and should they be impelled by a desire to test the unknown flavor, let them solace themselves with a less dangerous mixture of four papers of cambric needles and a spoonful of pounded glass. This will give a faint suggestion of the racy pungency of the Indian turnip. Were some kind friend at the present day to seek to kill me off with poisoned food, I should forthwith have him arrested on a charge of attempted murder, and incarcerated in the county jail. But what would be wilful homicide in the man is only a guileless proof of friendship in the boy, and his affections and their symptoms present a living paradox; and those boisterous days, with all their fond caresses in the way of fights and bruises and black eyes, and even Indian turnips, we all agree were full of fun the like of which we never shall see again.
How well we remember those tramps along the meadow brook: the dark, still holes beneath the overhanging rocks, where, with golden slipping loop and pole and cautious creep, we wired those lazy, unsuspecting “suckers” on the gravelly bed below! Ah! what scientific angling with the rod and reel in later years has ever brought back the keen tingle of that primitive sport? The great green bull-frogs, too, in the lily-pond, disclosing their cavernous resources as they jumped and splashed and sprawled after the tantalizing bit of red flannel on that dangling hook! We recall that rickety bridge among the willows, and the mossy nest of mud so firmly fixed upon the beam beneath. How could we be so deaf to the pleading of those little phoebe-birds that fluttered so beseechingly about us? Then there was that deep hole in the sand-bank near the brook, where the burrowing kingfisher hid away his nest, where we watched in the twilight to see him enter, and, with big round stone in readiness, “plugged” him in his den! What fun it was to dig him out, and ventilate his musty nest of fish-bones! The starling in the thicket of the swamp circled through the air with angry “Quit! quit!” as we picked our way through the bristling bogs so close upon her nest. We’ll not forget that false step that sent us sprawling in the green slimy mud, at the first electrifying glimpse of those brown spotted eggs. The high-holer, too, whose golden gleam of wing upon the bare dead tree betrayed his nesting-place in the hollow limb—was ever such a stimulus offered to the eagerness of youth? Who would give a second thought to his tender shins at the prospect of such a prize as a nest of high-hole’s eggs? How round and white they were! how the pale golden yolk floated beneath the pearly shell! Those were jolly days for us; but the poor birds had to suffer, and few, indeed, were the nests that escaped our prying search. There was the cat-bird in the evergreens, with lovely eggs of peacock blue; the pure white treasures of the swallows in the mud nests under the barn-yard eaves; the sky-blue beauties of the robin; the brown speckled eggs in the sheltered nest of song-sparrows on the grassy slope; the dear little eggs of chippies in their horse-hair bed, and in their midst the insinuated specimen of the cheeky cow-blackbird: there were eggs of every shape and hue, and we knew too well where to put our hand on them.