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WE were would-be haymakers, Benny and I, jogging along with Jonathan the man-servant, in an old market-wagon, towards our grandfather's farm. As remembered, we made a homely load, but a happy one. We were half wild with joy, and chattered like magpies all the way about our promised delights.
The whole universe was ours that day. We were not simply wayfarers to our grandfather's farm, but travellers at large; and the narrow circle of the horizon seemed as vast to us as the belt of the whole continent would now. We felt well; and if, in passing, travellers eyed us sharply, we were sure that they knew us for young haymakers. It never occurred to us that our equipage was unusual. The only fault we found was with the slowness of our pace and the jolting of the springless wagon; but the one gave our quick eyes a chance to spy out way-side wonders, and the other sent the blood into our cheeks. I am quite sure that we had a better time than we should have had with my grandfather's pretentious chaise and one of his smarter horses.
I can see now the yellow lilies we counted among the pines that day. I have loved yellow lilies ever since. They were cheerful things to a child's eye, gleaming out from an old forest. They were almost as pretty alongside the front door-steps of unpainted country-houses, where they paled somewhat, multiplied, and grew in clumps; whereas in the forest each blossom stood by itself in flaunting brightness, and seemed to come out of the wood to meet you.
The country through which we passed on our journey was sparsely settled, and mostly covered with a thin forest of old pines. This forest was full of a shaggy undergrowth of scrub-oaks and knolls of low huckleberry-bushes. The day was hot, and everything glowed with sunlight. In vain we turned our umbrella this way and that. Its whalebones creaked; the sun's rays pierced straight through it, past our straw hats, into our little brains; and we settled down, only to have our shoulders half baked by the high wagon-back. The sand of the road-side glittered; the wheel-tires sank into it and came up hot and bright. Each stone was a reflecting mirror, and the business of every leaf and twig seemed to be to absorb and send forth heat. The quiet was so perfect that the slightest crackle of a twig was distinctly heard. Yet, underlying this glare and seeming silence was a certain positive procession of sound.
We shut our eyes from sheer weariness, and were lulled to sleep by this soft drone of living, growing, ever-renewing nature. You country-livers know what this voice is, which has no alphabet, no written language, but which is nevertheless an all-pervading, thrilling monotone, best rendered in what are called her solitudes. Benny said he could hear things grow; and surely the wise little head both saw and heard many beautiful things that day.
So we young haymakers were not ashamed of the springless, rattling old market-wagon. Neither were we ashamed of Jonathan, with his homespun clothes and leathern whip, chewing his cud like an ox, and shouting to his horse with a never-ending "git ap." This horse was not a fine-looking beast. She was a true farm-horse, broad-backed and round-sided, carrying her head low, with a shaggy mane. She was old and not ambitious, pacing along, at the rate of five miles an hour, with a lumbering gait which gave a double jolt to the clumsy wagon. She was, however, to be respected for her age and her safety; and, known by the name of Betsy, had been for almost thirty years carefully tended by the family of which she was a true member. New England farmers were all merciful to their beasts of burden, and this kindness was a natural expression of the ingrained justice of their natures.
But one horse in the neighborhood was older than this one of my grandfather's, and that belonged to the aged minister of the parish. His horse, roaming at large, was as much a feature of the village landscape as its meetinghouse or its school-house. It grew into the history and the traditions of the place. It was an unaggressive, harmless animal, and came to hold a sort of feeble kinship with all the villagers. When an absentee asked after the townspeople and their affairs, he also asked after the parson's horse; and thus the unwitting beast came to be a representative of an enlarged humanity. This horse, long toothless and fed upon porridge, was so defiant of mortality that, out of sheer compassion, it was slain at last outside the village. I verily believe that the young men and maidens of the parish who had grown up during the lifetime of this dumb creature, and were used to the constant sight of it by the way-side, mourned the loss of the "parson's horse" with almost a sentiment of human friendship.
The Betsy of my grandfather's must have come of hardy stock, for she, too, outlived for several years her usefulness, and wandered during the summer, a hobbling, gray pensioner, upon the shore of the mill-pond, where one day she was found stark and stiff, close by the old boat. She used, when past service, to limp up to the pasture-bars and lean her old head upon the upper rail, giving us children a sort of blear-eyed recognition which was quite touching. To see this head bobbing up and down amongst the far-off alder-bushes was as pathetic to our child-hearts as if the poor creature could have talked and reasoned with us. We were glad when she gave up the ghost in a natural way, for my grandfather could not consent to have her killed.
Benny and I did not after all make a very mean appearance on our first visit alone to our grandfather's farm. We were only two untaught children going to a haying. Our equipage and our dress were suited to our calling. We were bent on a kindly errand, — we were to carry youth and cheerfulness, and so joy, into the great lonely house of an old man. Being imaginative children, and having little book learning, that which we desired to believe, and which fact failed to give us, we coined out of our own brains. The seven-mile sandy plain, with its pines and dwarf-oaks, we declared to be no less than forty miles long; whilst a moderate-sized pond Benny confidently whispered behind Jonathan's back could be no other than the Dead Sea itself. Yet this simple-hearted Benny was over-wise for his years about everything which could be coaxed by search and observation from the outlying landscape of his home, and he was, besides, a charming young romancer. It is delightful to go back to one's days of just such fresh-hearted credulity. Some of our childhood faiths may have been very foolish indeed, but many of them were beautiful, and we are tender of them all in memory in after-years. We can afford to lose none of them, for these same foolish beliefs were wise to us once, and swelled the sum of our earthly joys.
In my grandfather's time, when railroads had not permeated Eastern New England, a long journey was an epoch in a child's life; and that was called such which was accomplished by several days of slow-paced travel. It was made a subject for private devotion and public prayer. "Our brother and sister about to go on a long journey" became marked people in the parish. Neighbors "dropped in of evenings" to talk the matter over; and it was dreamed about and wrought for many weeks beforehand. The finest fabrics of the house were set aside and shaped over for that child who was going to Boston, or perhaps to some nearer town; to whom most likely was given especial and lighter tasks, as one upon whom the unction of travel had already fallen. The night before the start was a busy one in the farm-house. Many last stitches were to be taken, and the bandbox or small trunk to be packed by the careful mother. The child's wardrobe, made for the occasion, was meagre, but clean and strong. It was the best the farm had to give, and was fine to the wearer.
I can see Farmer Brown starting off with his daughter Sally, bound for Boston, just as he started over forty years ago. He was a well-to-do farmer, homely, but shrewd and honest, and had held high places of town trust. How exactly he is recalled! His broad collar seems to cut his ears with its sharp edges, and his stock clasps his neck like a vice. His blue-black homespun suit has been long-made, but well kept, and its showy buttons are of double gilt. Sally's frock is of store calico, with a white ruffle in the neck. The shawl she wears, of some printed pongee stuff, is a family heirloom, which her grandmother wore before her. Her bonnet, too gay and too small for her, has just come from Boston, a gift from her seldom seen uncle, who now and then thrusts a town gaud upon this neglected country relative. The family of this uncle they are going to visit. The innocent souls have not waited for an invitation. With them the instinct of kinship is as strong as their faith in their religion. For six months the mother's busy brain and fingers have toiled over fine twined threads of wheel and loom, to weave for this young girl an outfit suitable for this great occasion. She is a blithesome lass, just grown up, and is engaged to teach the village school.
They climb into the lumbering wagon. The younger children swarm about them, whilst the dear mother stands in the doorway with bared arms, shading her eyes with her hand, and watches them until they are gone out of sight under the hill. Sally is the envy of all the other village girls, and mothers gossip together of this weighty journey of hers.
Many an aged country-reared person knows what that journey was to Sally; how grand and mysterious the town seemed to her, with its many streets, its crowds of people, its various wares, and its many lights; how, impressed and oppressed by it, she grew self-conscious and lonely, and wished herself home again. Her uncle's house was an enchanted palace to her, and she a dazed girl in it. It was revealed to her that what pertained to herself and to her father was not in keeping with her surroundings. They were plainly-dressed, homespun country-people, well clad alongside the deep greens and russet browns of their farm, but ill assorting with gay town fashions. She saw and took in much. Her keen senses and bright mind were quickened to a wider scope by this somewhat unpalatable taste of strange living. The day of her departure was a relief to her. She went back as she came, except that she was lightly laden with simple purchases. She was as warmly welcomed as if she had come from a foreign land. The trinkets she had bought were as marvellous to her mother and the other children as they would have been to her once. She somewhat pitied their ignorance, but kept her own counsel. She was wiser than before she went, but not quite so happy. A glory had gone out of her home which could never come back. Its rooms were lower and narrower; and their fitness had been lost from the garments which bad been fashioned for her with so much care. Their textures and dyes were homespun, and so less esteemed. She made a better teacher for having been to Boston, because she had more weight with her scholars. But the sweetest relish of her rural home had died out for her. In later years it came again, as a delightful memory. She would then have given half she possessed to have been starting once more from the old farm-house, a simple-hearted girl in calico by the side of the homespun father, with the dear mother watching her from the doorway.
Our old horse plodded along so wearily that the shadows had grown long on the neighboring hills, and cow-bells were tinkling at the pasture-bars, when we drove through the gateway at the end of the green lane. Far away we had caught sight of our grandfather standing in his door. We knew him by his gray hair tossed in the wind. "He's an old dear," whispered Benny; "just a little cross sometimes, but never cross to me." No, he was never cross to little Benny, and seldom to any other child. He was a most orderly man, and was apt to lose patience when children upset his settled ways. He never was known to scold Benny, for the boy was his namesake, and had about him, he used to say, the look of those who die young. There was an unusual trembling of the aged hand which patted our heads, and a very tender greeting of the old man to us. Then he held us at arms' length, saying, with a merry twinkle in his eye, "So you young rascals have come to haying, have you? Well, I must say, your mother needn't have rigged you out like two Arabs; still, I think you'll do." Happy little Benny thought he was praising our looks, and told me shortly that Arabs must be some grand people.
My grandfather was a keen-witted, resolute, handsome man of good English stock. His life was as methodical as clock-work. His thrift wrested a competence from the soil; but his best legacy to his descendants was a certain inborn freedom of soul. He loved every inch of his farm, not as a plougher and plodder, but as an observer and thinker. So positive and self-asserting was this high type of his manhood that his only son, when exceptionally well educated and of exalted rank in his profession, never seemed more than his equal. Having lived past his fourscore years, he ended his prosperous and reputable life by a death of serene dignity.
He was called stern by his fellow-townsmen; but no man or woman ever questioned his integrity. His career, considering the possibilities of his nature, was a narrow one, but of the best, so far as it went. It had little gilt and polish, — not enough of recreation, — but such as it was, he took it up patiently and faithfully, and got out of it whatever of good it had in it. He did with all his might whatever he had to do, which was so much that it crowded his life to the verge of servitude. He was serious and earnest, if not stern, because the demands of his lot left little room for lighter moods, so that a higher sense of justice and humanity was born of this half-tragic element of his condition.
The children of such fathers were well-trained children. The parent's will was law with them, and the law of the parent was the word of God. These unpetted yet deeply-loved sons and daughters were truthful and honest. They were respecters of age, keepers of the Sabbath, and clean in all their ways, because their home tuition had been founded upon the highest principles of religion and morality. Tears and tender words did not come easily to such hard workers and simple livers. They had an element of heroic resistance to what they considered weakness, and a Spartan estimation of all tokens of it. Mothers could lay out their dead children for burial, and fathers could look upon them with tearless eyes. They would put them in graves close to their homes, and then go back to their old grooves, giving little outward sign. But the hurt was there, deep and for all time. These massive old heroes, these truthful, earnest wrestlers for duty, held their reticence as a comely instinct, — a sacred inner life.
The Christian New Englander of forty years ago was most reverent. His children were God's trust to him; as such he trained them, and as such he gave them up. If he unwisely crucified the tastes and desires of his sons and daughters, it was because of his own blind zeal and an overstraining of Bible precepts. If any of them, in morality, fell short of the home standard, he was more smitten by it than he would have been by their death.
After a supper of bread and milk, Benny and I were sent to bed, with orders to be up bright and early for the haying. The sun was already making great red streaks across the checked hangings in the east chamber when Benny's tap at my door, and the patter of his little feet across the sanded floor, startled me from an uneasy slumber. I had been dreaming of the enclosure in the mowing-field. I thought we were gathering buttercups on Olly's grave, when a great pit suddenly yawned, and Benny fell into it. "Quick, we are almost ready," he shouted, and then ran away, "to help fix off," he said. He had pumped a basin of fresh water, which, with a clean towel, awaited me on the wooden bench at the back-door. I scrubbed my face and hands with zest in that tin basin, and would be willing to-day to taste, in the same homely way, the pleasant abandon of that summer morning, if with it would come back the scents and voices, the glowing light, and the simple occupations of its long-past, happy day.
We ate no breakfast, Benny and I, we were too happy for that; besides, a huge basket under Jonathan's arm was, Hannah whispered, "brimful of goodies." The leathern-handled keg puzzled us; but Benny was a philosopher, and, pointing to the flies swarming about its spigot, confidently declared that it held some savory drink.
The smallest rakes were laid aside for the new hands, as our grandfather jocosely called us, and we were left to follow after the loads. Our little fists grew red and speckled; but Benny said they would soon be tough like Jonathan's, and the fun of treading down the sweet hay and jolting over the sill of the barn more than made up for all our ills. "Our new hands ain't so green after all," remarked spruce David to his fellow-mower. "Tell better arter the new's off," was Jonathan's bluff reply. "The old clown!" whispered Benny. "How clever David is!" said I.
By and by, when the sun had gotten into the zenith, we began to feel hot and tired, and cast longing glances towards the shady rock by the spring, behind which were the keg and bundle. My grandfather, seeing us lag, took pity upon us, and sent us there to rest. We ate our share of the lunch, and took long draughts of sweetened water from the keg.
Benny thought there was too much ginger in it, but drank freely. Alas! for the struggling fly which, sticking fast upon Benny's nose, daubed over with molasses, made us forget to put back the spigot. When the thirsty mowers came round the rock the keg was empty.
"So much for babies in haying-time," growled Jonathan. My grandfather looked severe, and told us to "start for the house." So we did, David slipping round the rock to say to us that it was no matter, for he would fill the keg again.
We idled the afternoon sadly away in the old farm-house. True to human nature, we little ones turned against each other. "You are black as a crow," said Benny. "And you," retorted I, "are as speckled as an adder." "All from this hateful haying," Benny went on. Then, common grief making common cause, we came together again; and, pledging everlasting absence from the haying field, we dwelt in love and harmony until bedtime. Somehow my tired little body would not rest that night. I had another frightful dream about a deep pit and little Benny. I kept waking up; but the bed-curtains looked so black, and the dimly-seen windows so ghostly, that I shut my eyes and lay trembling with fear half the night. It was very late the next morning when I was awakened by the merry haymakers under my window, on their way to the mowing-field. Above every other voice rang out Benny's, glad and care free.
After that the haying-time passed away quickly and merrily. Best of holidays to me; from which have come some of the brightest pictures and purest sentiments of my life. Payday came. Jonathan and David received their well-earned wages; scores of transient helpers had come and gone; Benny and I each clasped in our brown hands four bright silver dollars.
The big gate opened to let out the market-wagon, with two joyous-hearted children. Their clothes were much the worse for wear, and they looked even queerer than they did when they came. They turned tenderly back to the white-haired old man, who watched them from the porch-door. "I'll come again very soon," called Benny. He did come, and the big gate opened wide to let him in.