Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
VOL. X.--OCTOBER, 1862.--NO. LX.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our
autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English
poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there. The most
that Thomson says on this subject in his "Autumn" is contained in the
"But see the fading many-colored woods,
Shade deepening over shade, the country round
Imbrown; a crowded umbrage, dusk and dun,
Of every hue, from wan declining green to sooty dark":--
and in the line in which he speaks of
"Autumn beaming o'er the yellow woods."
The autumnal change of our woods has not made a deep impression on our
own literature yet. October has hardly tinged our poetry.
A great many, who have spent their lives in cities, and have never
chanced to come into the country at this season, have never seen this,
the flower, or rather the ripe fruit, of the year. I remember riding
with one such citizen, who, though a fortnight too late for the most
brilliant tints, was taken by surprise, and would not believe that there
had been any brighter. He had never heard of this phenomenon before. Not
only many in our towns have never witnessed it, but it is scarcely
remembered by the majority from year to year.
Most appear to confound changed leaves with withered ones, as if they
were to confound ripe apples with rotten ones. I think that the change
to some higher color in a leaf is an evidence that it has arrived at a
late and perfect maturity, answering to the maturity of fruits. It is
generally the lowest and oldest leaves which change first. But as the
perfect winged and usually bright-colored insect is short-lived, so the
leaves ripen but to fall.
Generally, every fruit, on ripening, and just before it falls, when it
commences a more independent and individual existence, requiring less
nourishment from any source, and that not so much from the earth through
its stem as from the sun and air, acquires a bright tint. So do leaves.
The physiologist says it is "due to an increased absorption of oxygen."
That is the scientific account of the matter,--only a reassertion of the
fact. But I am more interested in the rosy cheek than I am to know what
particular diet the maiden fed on. The very forest and herbage, the
pellicle of the earth, must acquire a bright color, an evidence of its
ripeness,--as if the globe itself were a fruit on its stem, with ever a
cheek toward the sun.
Flowers are but colored leaves, fruits but ripe ones. The edible part of
most fruits is, as the physiologist says, "the parenchyma or fleshy
tissue of the leaf" of which they are formed.
Our appetites have commonly confined our views of ripeness and its
phenomena, color, mellowness, and perfectness, to the fruits which we
eat, and we are wont to forget that an immense harvest which we do not
eat, hardly use at all, is annually ripened by Nature. At our annual
Cattle Shows and Horticultural Exhibitions, we make, as we think, a
great show of fair fruits, destined, however, to a rather ignoble end,
fruits not valued for their beauty chiefly. But round about and within
our towns there is annually another show of fruits, on an infinitely
grander scale, fruits which address our taste for beauty alone.
October is the month of painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes
round the world. As fruits and leaves and the day itself acquire a
bright tint just before they fall, so the year near its setting. October
is its sunset sky; November the later twilight.
I formerly thought that it would be worth the while to get a specimen
leaf from each changing tree, shrub, and herbaceous plant, when it had
acquired its brightest characteristic color, in its transition from the
green to the brown state, outline it, and copy its color exactly, with
paint, in a book, which should be entitled, "_October, or Autumnal
Tints_";--beginning with the earliest reddening,--Woodbine and the lake
of radical leaves, and coming down through the Maples, Hickories, and
Sumachs, and many beautifully freckled leaves less generally known, to
the latest Oaks and Aspens. What a memento such a book would be! You
would need only to turn over its leaves to take a ramble through the
autumn woods whenever you pleased. Or if I could preserve the leaves
themselves, unfaded, it would be better still. I have made but little
progress toward such a book, but I have endeavored, instead, to describe
all these bright tints in the order in which they present themselves.
The following are some extracts from my notes.
THE PURPLE GRASSES.
By the twentieth of August, everywhere in woods and swamps, we are
reminded of the fall, both by the richly spotted Sarsaparilla-leaves and
Brakes, and the withering and blackened Skunk-Cabbage and Hellebore,
and, by the river-side, the already blackening Pontederia.
The Purple Grass (_Eragrostis pectinacea_) is now in the height of its
beauty. I remember still when I first noticed this grass particularly.
Standing on a hill-side near our river, I saw, thirty or forty rods off,
a stripe of purple half a dozen rods long, under the edge of a wood,
where the ground sloped toward a meadow. It was as high-colored and
interesting, though not quite so bright, as the patches of Rhexia, being
a darker purple, like a berry's stain laid on close and thick. On going
to and examining it, I found it to be a kind of grass in bloom, hardly a
foot high, with but few green blades, and a fine spreading panicle of
purple flowers, a shallow, purplish mist trembling around me. Close at
hand it appeared but a dull purple, and made little impression on the
eye; it was even difficult to detect; and if you plucked a single plant,
you were surprised to find how thin it was, and how little color it had.
But viewed at a distance in a favorable light, it was of a fine lively
purple, flower-like, enriching the earth. Such puny causes combine to
produce these decided effects. I was the more surprised and charmed
because grass is commonly of a sober and humble color.
With its beautiful purple blush it reminds me, and supplies the place,
of the Rhexia, which is now leaving off, and it is one of the most
interesting phenomena of August. The finest patches of it grow on waste
strips or selvages of land at the base of dry hills, just above the edge
of the meadows, where the greedy mower does not deign to swing his
scythe; for this is a thin and poor grass, beneath his notice. Or, it
may be, because it is so beautiful he does not know that it exists; for
the same eye does not see this and Timothy. He carefully gets the meadow
hay and the more nutritious grasses which grow next to that, but he
leaves this fine purple mist for the walker's harvest,--fodder for his
fancy stock. Higher up the hill, perchance, grow also Blackberries,
John's-Wort, and neglected, withered, and wiry June-Grass How fortunate
that it grows in such places, and not in the midst of the rank grasses
which are annually cut! Nature thus keeps use and beauty distinct. I
know many such localities, where it does not fail to present itself
annually, and paint the earth with its blush. It grows on the gentle
slopes, either in a continuous patch or in scattered and rounded tufts a
foot in diameter, and it lasts till it is killed by the first smart
In most plants the corolla or calyx is the part which attains the
highest color, and is the most attractive; in many it is the seed-vessel
or fruit; in others, as the Red Maple, the leaves; and in others still
it is the very culm itself which is the principal flower or blooming
The last is especially the case with the Poke or Garget (_Phytolacca
decandra_). Some which stand under our cliffs quite dazzle me with their
purple stems now and early in September. They are as interesting to me
as most flowers, and one of the most important fruits of our autumn.
Every part is flower, (or fruit,) such is its superfluity of
color,--stem, branch, peduncle, pedicel, petiole, and even the at length
yellowish purple-veined leaves. Its cylindrical racemes of berries of
various hues, from green to dark purple, six or seven inches long, are
gracefully drooping on all sides, offering repasts to the birds; and
even the sepals from which the birds have picked the berries are a
brilliant lake-red, with crimson flame-like reflections, equal to
anything of the kind,--all on fire with ripeness. Hence the _lacca_,
from _lac_, lake. There are at the same time flower-buds, flowers, green
berries, dark purple or ripe ones, and these flower-like sepals, all on
the same plant.
We love to see any redness in the vegetation of the temperate zone. It
is the color of colors. This plant speaks to blood. It asks a bright sun
on it to make it show to best advantage, and it must be seen at this
season of the year. On warm hill-sides its stems are ripe by the
twenty-third of August. At that date I walked through a beautiful grove
of them, six or seven feet high, on the side of one of our cliffs, where
they ripen early. Quite to the ground they were a deep brilliant purple
with a bloom, contrasting with the still clear green leaves. It appears
a rare triumph of Nature to have produced and perfected such a plant, as
if this were enough for a summer. What a perfect maturity it arrives at!
It is the emblem of a successful life concluded by a death not
premature, which is an ornament to Nature. What if we were to mature as
perfectly, root and branch, glowing in the midst of our decay, like the
Poke! I confess that it excites me to behold them. I cut one for a cane,
for I would fain handle and lean on it. I love to press the berries
between my fingers, and see their juice staining my hand. To walk amid
these upright, branching casks of purple wine, which retain and diffuse
a sunset glow, tasting each one with your eye, instead of counting the
pipes on a London dock, what a privilege! For Nature's vintage is not
confined to the vine. Our poets have sung of wine, the product of a
foreign plant which commonly they never saw, as if our own plants had no
juice in them more than the singers. Indeed, this has been called by
some the American Grape, and, though a native of America, its juices are
used in some foreign countries to improve the color of the wine; so that
the poetaster may be celebrating the virtues of the Poke without knowing
it. Here are berries enough to paint afresh the western sky, and play
the bacchanal with, if you will. And what flutes its ensanguined stems
would make, to be used in such a dance! It is truly a royal plant. I
could spend the evening of the year musing amid the Poke-stems. And
perchance amid these groves might arise at last a new school of
philosophy or poetry. It lasts all through September.
At the same time with this, or near the end of August, a to me very
interesting genus of grasses, Andropogons, or Beard-Grasses, is in its
prime. _Andropogon furcatus_, Forked Beard-Grass, or call it
Purple-Fingered Grass; _Andropogon scoparius_, Purple Wood-Grass; and
_Andropogon_ (now called _Sorghum_) _nutans_, Indian-Grass. The first is
a very tall and slender-culmed grass, three to seven feet high, with
four or five purple finger-like spikes raying upward from the top. The
second is also quite slender, growing in tufts two feet high by one
wide, with culms often somewhat curving, which, as the spikes go out of
bloom, have a whitish fuzzy look. These two are prevailing grasses at
this season on dry and sandy fields and hill-sides. The culms of both,
not to mention their pretty flowers, reflect a purple tinge, and help to
declare the ripeness of the year. Perhaps I have the more sympathy with
them because they are despised by the farmer, and occupy sterile and
neglected soil. They are high-colored, like ripe grapes, and express a
maturity which the spring did not suggest. Only the August sun could
have thus burnished these culms and leaves. The farmer has long since
done his upland haying, and he will not condescend to bring his scythe
to where these slender wild grasses have at length flowered thinly; you
often see spaces of bare sand amid them. But I walk encouraged between
the tufts of Purple Wood-Grass, over the sandy fields, and along the
edge of the Shrub-Oaks, glad to recognize these simple contemporaries.
With thoughts cutting a broad swathe I "get" them, with horse-raking
thoughts I gather them into windrows. The fine-eared poet may hear the
whetting of my scythe. These two were almost the first grasses that I
learned to distinguish, for I had not known by how many friends I was
surrounded,--I had seen them simply as grasses standing. The purple of
their culms also excites me like that of the Poke-Weed stems.
Think what refuge there is for one, before August is over, from college
commencements and society that isolates! I can skulk amid the tufts of
Purple Wood-Grass on the borders of the "Great Fields." Wherever I walk
these afternoons, the Purple-Fingered Grass also stands like a
guide-board, and points my thoughts to more poetic paths than they have
A man shall perhaps rush by and trample down plants as high as his head,
and cannot be said to know that they exist, though he may have cut many
tons of them, littered his stables with them, and fed them to his cattle
for years. Yet, if he ever favorably attends to them, he may be overcome
by their beauty. Each humblest plant, or weed, as we call it, stands
there to express some thought or mood of ours; and yet how long it
stands in vain! I had walked over those Great Fields so many Augusts,
and never yet distinctly recognized these purple companions that I had
there. I had brushed against them and trodden on them, forsooth; and
now, at last, they, as it were, rose up and blessed me. Beauty and true
wealth are always thus cheap and despised. Heaven might be defined as
the place which men avoid. Who can doubt that these grasses, which the
farmer says are of no account to him, find some compensation in your
appreciation of them? I may say that I never saw them before,--though,
when I came to look them face to face, there did come down to me a
purple gleam from previous years; and now, wherever I go, I see hardly
anything else. It is the reign and presidency of the Andropogons.
Almost the very sands confess the ripening influence of the August sun,
and methinks, together with the slender grasses waving over them,
reflect a purple tinge. The impurpled sands! Such is the consequence of
all this sunshine absorbed into the pores of plants and of the earth.
All sap or blood is now wine-colored. At last we have not only the
purple sea, but the purple land.
The Chestnut Beard-Grass, Indian-Grass, or Wood-Grass, growing here and
there in waste places, but more rare than the former, (from two to four
or five feet high,) is still handsomer and of more vivid colors than its
congeners, and might well have caught the Indian's eye. It has a long,
narrow, one-sided, and slightly nodding panicle of bright purple and
yellow flowers, like a banner raised above its reedy leaves. These
bright standards are now advanced on the distant hill-sides, not in
large armies, but in scattered troops or single file, like the red men.
They stand thus fair and bright, representative of the race which they
are named after, but for the most part unobserved as they. The
expression of this grass haunted me for a week, after I first passed and
noticed it, like the glance of an eye. It stands like an Indian chief
taking a last look at his favorite hunting-grounds.
THE RED MAPLE.
By the twenty-fifth of September, the Red Maples generally are beginning
to be ripe. Some large ones have been conspicuously changing for a week,
and some single trees are now very brilliant. I notice a small one, half
a mile off across a meadow, against the green wood-side there, a far
brighter red than the blossoms of any tree in summer, and more
conspicuous. I have observed this tree for several autumns invariably
changing earlier than its fellows, just as one tree ripens its fruit
earlier than another. It might serve to mark the season, perhaps. I
should be sorry, if it were cut down. I know of two or three such trees
in different parts of our town, which might, perhaps, be propagated
from, as early ripeners or September trees, and their seed be advertised
in the market, as well as that of radishes, if we cared as much about
At present, these burning bushes stand chiefly along the edge of the
meadows, or I distinguish them afar on the hill-sides here and there.
Sometimes you will see many small ones in a swamp turned quite crimson
when all other trees around are still perfectly green, and the former
appear so much the brighter for it. They take you by surprise, as you
are going by on one side, across the fields thus early in the season, as
if it were some gay encampment of the red men, or other foresters, of
whose arrival you had not heard.
Some single trees, wholly bright scarlet, seen against others of their
kind still freshly green, or against evergreens, are more memorable than
whole groves will be by-and-by. How beautiful, when a whole tree is like
one great scarlet fruit full of ripe juices, every leaf, from lowest
limb to topmost spire, all aglow, especially if you look toward the sun!
What more remarkable object can there be in the landscape? Visible for
miles, too fair to be believed. If such a phenomenon occurred but once,
it would be handed down by tradition to posterity, and get into the
mythology at last.
The whole tree thus ripening in advance of its fellows attains a
singular preeminence, and sometimes maintains it for a week or two. I am
thrilled at the sight of it, bearing aloft its scarlet standard for the
regiment of green-clad foresters around, and I go half a mile out of my
way to examine it. A single tree becomes thus the crowning beauty of
some meadowy vale, and the expression of the whole surrounding forest is
at once more spirited for it.
A small Red Maple has grown, perchance, far away at the head of some
retired valley, a mile from any road, unobserved. It has faithfully
discharged the duties of a Maple there, all winter and summer, neglected
none of its economies, but added to its stature in the virtue which
belongs to a Maple, by a steady growth for so many months, never having
gone gadding abroad, and is nearer heaven than it was in the spring. It
has faithfully husbanded its sap, and afforded a shelter to the
wandering bird, has long since ripened its seeds and committed them to
the winds, and has the satisfaction of knowing, perhaps, that a thousand
little well-behaved Maples are already settled in life somewhere. It
deserves well of Mapledom. Its leaves have been asking it from time to
time, in a whisper, "When shall we redden?" And now, in this month of
September, this month of travelling, when men are hastening to the
sea-side, or the mountains, or the lakes, this modest Maple, still
without budging an inch, travels in its reputation,--runs up its scarlet
flag on that hill-side, which shows that it has finished its summer's
work before all other trees, and withdraws from the contest. At the
eleventh hour of the year, the tree which no scrutiny could have
detected here when it was most industrious is thus, by the tint of its
maturity, by its very blushes, revealed at last to the careless and
distant traveller, and leads his thoughts away from the dusty road into
those brave solitudes which it inhabits. It flashes out conspicuous with
all the virtue and beauty of a Maple,--_Acer rubrum_. We may now read
its title, or _rubric_, clear. Its _virtues_, not its sins, are as
Notwithstanding the Red Maple is the most intense scarlet of any of our
trees, the Sugar-Maple has been the most celebrated, and Michaux in his
"Sylva" does not speak of the autumnal color of the former. About the
second of October, these trees, both large and small, are most
brilliant, though many are still green. In "sprout-lands" they seem to
vie with one another, and ever some particular one in the midst of the
crowd will be of a peculiarly pure scarlet, and by its more intense
color attract our eye even at a distance, and carry off the palm. A
large Red-Maple swamp, when at the height of its change, is the most
obviously brilliant of all tangible things, where I dwell, so abundant
is this tree with us. It varies much both in form and color. A great
many are merely yellow, more scarlet, others scarlet deepening into
crimson, more red than common. Look at yonder swamp of Maples mixed with
Pines, at the base of a Pine-clad hill, a quarter of a mile off, so that
you get the full effect of the bright colors, without detecting the
imperfections of the leaves, and see their yellow, scarlet, and crimson
fires, of all tints, mingled and contrasted with the green. Some Maples
are yet green, only yellow or crimson-tipped on the edges of their
flakes, like the edges of a Hazel-Nut burr; some are wholly brilliant
scarlet, raying out regularly and finely every way, bilaterally, like
the veins of a leaf; others, of more irregular form, when I turn my head
slightly, emptying out some of its earthiness and concealing the trunk
of the tree, seem to rest heavily flake on flake, like yellow and
scarlet clouds, wreath upon wreath, or like snow-drifts driving through
the air, stratified by the wind. It adds greatly to the beauty of such a
swamp at this season, that, even though there may be no other trees
interspersed, it is not seen as a simple mass of color, but, different
trees being of different colors and hues, the outline of each crescent
tree-top is distinct, and where one laps on to another. Yet a painter
would hardly venture to make them thus distinct a quarter of a mile off.
As I go across a meadow directly toward a low rising ground this bright
afternoon, I see, some fifty rods off toward the sun, the top of a Maple
swamp just appearing over the sheeny russet edge of the hill, a stripe
apparently twenty rods long by ten feet deep, of the most intensely
brilliant scarlet, orange, and yellow, equal to any flowers or fruits,
or any tints ever painted. As I advance, lowering the edge of the hill
which makes the firm foreground or lower frame of the picture, the depth
of the brilliant grove revealed steadily increases, suggesting that the
whole of the inclosed valley is filled with such color. One wonders that
the tithing-men and fathers of the town are not out to see what the
trees mean by their high colors and exuberance of spirits, fearing that
some mischief is brewing. I do not see what the Puritans did at this
season, when the Maples blaze out in scarlet. They certainly could not
have worshipped in groves then. Perhaps that is what they built
meeting-houses and fenced them round with horse-sheds for.
Now, too, the first of October, or later, the Elms are at the height of
their autumnal beauty, great brownish-yellow masses, warm from their
September oven, hanging over the highway. Their leaves are perfectly
ripe. I wonder if there is any answering ripeness in the lives of the
men who live beneath them. As I look down our street, which is lined
with them, they remind me both by their form and color of yellowing
sheaves of grain, as if the harvest had indeed come to the village
itself, and we might expect to find some maturity and flavor in the
thoughts of the villagers at last. Under those bright rustling yellow
piles just ready to fall on the heads of the walkers, how can any
crudity or greenness of thought or act prevail? When I stand where half
a dozen large Elms droop over a house, it is as if I stood within a ripe
pumpkin-rind, and I feel as mellow as if I were the pulp, though I may
be somewhat stringy and seedy withal. What is the late greenness of the
English Elm, like a cucumber out of season, which does not know when to
have done, compared with the early and golden maturity of the American
tree? The street is the scene of a great harvest-home. It would be worth
the while to set out these trees, if only for their autumnal value.
Think of these great yellow canopies or parasols held over our heads and
houses by the mile together, making the village all one and compact,--an
_ulmarium_, which is at the same time a nursery of men! And then how
gently and unobserved they drop their burden and let in the sun when it
is wanted, their leaves not heard when they fall on our roofs and in our
streets; and thus the village parasol is shut up and put away! I see the
market-man driving into the village, and disappearing under its canopy
of Elm-tops, with _his_ crop, as into a great granary or barnyard. I am
tempted to go thither as to a husking of thoughts, now dry and ripe, and
ready to be separated from their integuments; but, alas! I foresee that
it will be chiefly husks and little thought, blasted pig-corn, fit only
for cob-meal,--for, as you sow, so shall you reap.
By the sixth of October the leaves generally begin to fall, in
successive showers, after frost or rain; but the principal leaf-harvest,
the acme of the _Fall_, is commonly about the sixteenth. Some morning at
that date there is perhaps a harder frost than we have seen, and ice
formed under the pump, and now, when the morning wind rises, the leaves
come down in denser showers than ever. They suddenly form thick beds or
carpets on the ground, in this gentle air, or even without wind, just
the size and form of the tree above. Some trees, as small Hickories,
appear to have dropped their leaves instantaneously, as a soldier
grounds arms at a signal; and those of the Hickory, being bright yellow
still, though withered, reflect a blaze of light from the ground where
they lie. Down they have come on all sides, at the first earnest touch
of autumn's wand, making a sound like rain.
Or else it is after moist and rainy weather that we notice how great a
fall of leaves there has been in the night, though it may not yet be the
touch that loosens the Rock-Maple leaf. The streets are thickly strewn
with the trophies, and fallen Elm-leaves make a dark brown pavement
under our feet. After some remarkably warm Indian-summer day or days, I
perceive that it is the unusual heat which, more than anything, causes
the leaves to fall, there having been, perhaps, no frost nor rain for
some time. The intense heat suddenly ripens and wilts them, just as it
softens and ripens peaches and other fruits, and causes them to drop.
The leaves of late Red Maples, still bright, strew the earth, often
crimson-spotted on a yellow ground, like some wild apples,--though they
preserve these bright colors on the ground but a day or two, especially
if it rains. On causeways I go by trees here and there all bare and
smoke-like, having lost their brilliant clothing; but there it lies,
nearly as bright as ever, on the ground on one side, and making nearly
as regular a figure as lately on the tree. I would rather say that I
first observe the trees thus flat on the ground like a permanent colored
shadow, and they suggest to look for the boughs that bore them. A queen
might be proud to walk where these gallant trees have spread their
bright cloaks in the mud. I see wagons roll over them as a shadow or a
reflection, and the drivers heed them just as little as they did their
Birds'-nests, in the Huckleberry and other shrubs, and in trees, are
already being filled with the withered leaves. So many have fallen in
the woods, that a squirrel cannot run after a falling nut without being
heard. Boys are raking them in the streets, if only for the pleasure of
dealing with such clean crisp substances. Some sweep the paths
scrupulously neat, and then stand to see the next breath strew them with
new trophies. The swamp-floor is thickly covered, and the _Lycopodium
lucidulum_ looks suddenly greener amid them. In dense woods they
half-cover pools that are three or four rods long. The other day I could
hardly find a well-known spring, and even suspected that it had dried
up, for it was completely concealed by freshly fallen leaves; and when I
swept them aside and revealed it, it was like striking the earth, with
Aaron's rod, for a new spring. Wet grounds about the edges of swamps
look dry with them. At one swamp, where I was surveying, thinking to
step on a leafy shore from a rail, I got into the water more than a foot
When I go to the river the day after the principal fall of leaves, the
sixteenth, I find my boat all covered, bottom and seats, with the leaves
of the Golden Willow under which it is moored, and I set sail with a
cargo of them rustling under my feet. If I empty it, it will be full
again to-morrow. I do not regard them as litter, to be swept out, but
accept them as suitable straw or matting for the bottom of my carriage.
When I turn up into the mouth of the Assabet, which is wooded, large
fleets of leaves are floating on its surface, as it were getting out to
sea, with room to tack; but next the shore, a little farther up, they
are thicker than foam, quite concealing the water for a rod in width,
under and amid the Alders, Button-Bushes, and Maples, still perfectly
light and dry, with fibre unrelaxed; and at a rocky bend where they are
met and stopped by the morning wind, they sometimes form a broad and
dense crescent quite across the river. When I turn my prow that way, and
the wave which it makes strikes them, list what a pleasant rustling from
these dry substances grating on one another! Often it is their
undulation only which reveals the water beneath them. Also every motion
of the wood-turtle on the shore is betrayed by their rustling there. Or
even in mid-channel, when the wind rises, I hear them blown with a
rustling sound. Higher up they are slowly moving round and round in some
great eddy which the river makes, as that at the "Leaning Hemlocks,"
where the water is deep, and the current is wearing into the bank.
Perchance, in the afternoon of such a day, when the water is perfectly
calm and full of reflections, I paddle gently down the main stream, and,
turning up the Assabet, reach a quiet cove, where I unexpectedly find
myself surrounded by myriads of leaves, like fellow-voyagers, which seem
to have the same purpose, or want of purpose, with myself. See this
great fleet of scattered leaf-boats which we paddle amid, in this smooth
river-bay, each one curled up on every side by the sun's skill, each
nerve a stiff spruce-knee,--like boats of hide, and of all patterns,
Charon's boat probably among the rest, and some with lofty prows and
poops, like the stately vessels of the ancients, scarcely moving in the
sluggish current,--like the great fleets, the dense Chinese cities of
boats, with which you mingle on entering some great mart, some New York
or Canton, which we are all steadily approaching together. How gently
each has been deposited on the water! No violence has been used towards
them yet, though, perchance, palpitating hearts were present at the
launching. And painted ducks, too, the splendid wood-duck among the
rest, often come to sail and float amid the painted leaves,--barks of a
nobler model still!
What wholesome herb-drinks are to be had in the swamps now! What strong
medicinal, but rich, scents from the decaying leaves! The rain falling
on the freshly dried herbs and leaves, and filling the pools and ditches
into which they have dropped thus clean and rigid, will soon convert
them into tea,--green, black, brown, and yellow teas, of all degrees of
strength, enough to set all Nature a-gossiping. Whether we drink them or
not, as yet, before their strength is drawn, these leaves, dried on
great Nature's coppers, are of such various pure and delicate tints as
might make the fame of Oriental teas.
How they are mixed up, of all species, Oak and Maple and Chestnut and
Birch! But Nature is not cluttered with them; she is a perfect
husbandman; she stores them all. Consider what a vast crop is thus
annually shed on the earth! This, more than any mere grain or seed, is
the great harvest of the year. The trees are now repaying the earth with
interest what they have taken from it. They are discounting. They are
about to add a leaf's thickness to the depth of the soil. This is the
beautiful way in which Nature gets her muck, while I chaffer with this
man and that, who talks to me about sulphur and the cost of carting. We
are all the richer for their decay. I am more interested in this crop
than in the English grass alone or in the corn. It prepares the virgin
mould for future cornfields and forests, on which the earth fattens. It
keeps our homestead in good heart.
For beautiful variety no crop can be compared with this. Here is not
merely the plain yellow of the grains, but nearly all the colors that we
know, the brightest blue not excepted: the early blushing Maple, the
Poison-Sumach blazing its sins as scarlet, the mulberry Ash, the rich
chrome-yellow of the Poplars, the brilliant red Huckleberry, with which
the hills' backs are painted, like those of sheep. The frost touches
them, and, with the slightest breath of returning day or jarring of
earth's axle, see in what showers they come floating down! The ground is
all party-colored with them. But they still live in the soil, whose
fertility and bulk they increase, and in the forests that spring from
it. They stoop to rise, to mount higher in coming years, by subtle
chemistry, climbing by the sap in the trees, and the sapling's first
fruits thus shed, transmuted at last, may adorn its crown, when, in
after-years, it has become the monarch of the forest.
It is pleasant to walk over the beds of these fresh, crisp, and rustling
leaves. How beautifully they go to their graves! how gently lay
themselves down and turn to mould!--painted of a thousand hues, and fit
to make the beds of us living. So they troop to their last
resting-place, light and frisky. They put on no weeds, but merrily they
go scampering over the earth, selecting the spot, choosing a lot,
ordering no iron fence, whispering all through the woods about it,--some
choosing the spot where the bodies of men are mouldering beneath, and
meeting them half-way. How many flutterings before they rest quietly in
their graves! They that soared so loftily, how contentedly they return
to dust again, and are laid low, resigned to lie and decay at the foot
of the tree, and afford nourishment to new generations of their kind, as
well as to flutter on high! They teach us how to die. One wonders if the
time will ever come when men, with their boasted faith in immortality,
will lie down as gracefully and as ripe,--with such an Indian-summer
serenity will shed their bodies, as they do their hair and nails.
When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery pleasant to walk in.
I love to wander and muse over them in their graves. Here are no lying
nor vain epitaphs. What though you own no lot at Mount Auburn? Your lot
is surely cast somewhere in this vast cemetery, which has been
consecrated from of old. You need attend no auction to secure a place.
There is room enough here. The Loose-strife shall bloom and the
Huckleberry-bird sing over your bones. The woodman and hunter shall be
your sextons, and the children shall tread upon the borders as much as
they will. Let us walk in the cemetery of the leaves,--this is your true
But think not that the splendor of the year is over; for as one leaf
does not make a summer, neither does one fallen leaf make an autumn. The
smallest Sugar-Maples in our streets make a great show as early as the
fifth of October, more than any other trees there. As I look up the Main
Street, they appear like painted screens standing before the houses; yet
many are green. But now, or generally by the seventeenth of October,
when almost all Red Maples, and some White Maples, are bare, the large
Sugar-Maples also are in their glory, glowing with yellow and red, and
show unexpectedly bright and delicate tints. They are remarkable for the
contrast they often afford of deep blushing red on one half and green on
the other. They become at length dense masses of rich yellow with a deep
scarlet blush, or more than blush, on the exposed surfaces. They are the
brightest trees now in the street.
The large ones on our Common are particularly beautiful. A delicate, but
warmer than golden yellow is now the prevailing color, with scarlet
cheeks. Yet, standing on the east side of the Common just before
sundown, when the western light is transmitted through them, I see that
their yellow even, compared with the pale lemon yellow of an Elm close
by, amounts to a scarlet, without noticing the bright scarlet portions.
Generally, they are great regular oval masses of yellow and scarlet. All
the sunny warmth of the season, the Indian summer, seems to be absorbed
in their leaves. The lowest and inmost leaves next the bole are, as
usual, of the most delicate yellow and green, like the complexion of
young men brought up in the house. There is an auction on the Common
to-day, but its red flag is hard to be discerned amid this blaze of
Little did the fathers of the town anticipate this brilliant success,
when they caused to be imported from farther in the country some
straight poles with their tops cut off, which they called Sugar-Maples;
and, as I remember, after they were set out, a neighboring merchant's
clerk, by way of jest, planted beans about them. Those which were then
jestingly called bean-poles are to-day far the most beautiful objects
noticeable in our streets. They are worth all and more than they have
cost,--though one of the selectmen, while setting them out, took the
cold which occasioned his death,--if only because they have filled the
open eyes of children with their rich color unstintedly so many
Octobers. We will not ask them to yield us sugar in the spring, while
they afford us so fair a prospect in the autumn. Wealth in-doors may be
the inheritance of few, but it is equally distributed on the Common. All
children alike can revel in this golden harvest.
Surely trees should be set in our streets with a view to their October
splendor; though I doubt whether this is ever considered by the "Tree
Society." Do you not think it will make some odds to these children that
they were brought up under the Maples? Hundreds of eyes are steadily
drinking in this color, and by these teachers even the truants are
caught and educated the moment they step abroad. Indeed, neither the
truant nor the studious is at present taught color in the schools. These
are instead of the bright colors in apothecaries' shops and city
windows. It is a pity that we have no more _Red_ Maples, and some
Hickories, in our streets as well. Our paint-box is very imperfectly
filled. Instead of, or beside, supplying such paint-boxes as we do, we
might supply these natural colors to the young. Where else will they
study color under greater advantages? What School of Design can vie with
this? Think how much the eyes of painters of all kinds, and of
manufacturers of cloth and paper, and paper-stainers, and countless
others, are to be educated by these autumnal colors. The stationer's
envelopes may be of very various tints, yet not so various as those of
the leaves of a single tree. If you want a different shade or tint of a
particular color, you have only to look farther within or without the
tree or the wood. These leaves are not many dipped in one dye, as at the
dye-house, but they are dyed in light of infinitely various degrees of
strength, and left to set and dry there.
Shall the names of so many of our colors continue to be derived from
those of obscure foreign localities, as Naples yellow, Prussian blue,
raw Sienna, burnt Umber, Gamboge?--(surely the Tyrian purple must have
faded by this time)--or from comparatively trivial articles of
commerce,--chocolate, lemon, coffee, cinnamon, claret?--(shall we
compare our Hickory to a lemon, or a lemon to a Hickory?)--or from ores
and oxides which few ever see? Shall we so often, when describing to our
neighbors the color of something we have seen, refer them, not to some
natural object in our neighborhood, but perchance to a bit of earth
fetched from the other side of the planet, which possibly they may find
at the apothecary's, but which probably neither they nor we ever saw?
Have we not an _earth_ under our feet,--ay, and a sky over our heads? Or
is the last _all_ ultramarine? What do we know of sapphire, amethyst,
emerald, ruby, amber, and the like,--most of us who take these names in
vain? Leave these precious words to cabinet-keepers, virtuosos, and
maids-of-honor,--to the Nabobs, Begums, and Chobdars of Hindostan, or
wherever else. I do not see why, since America and her autumn woods have
been discovered, our leaves should not compete with the precious stones
in giving names to colors; and, indeed, I believe that in course of time
the names of some of our trees and shrubs, as well as flowers, will get
into our popular chromatic nomenclature.
But of much more importance than a knowledge of the names and
distinctions of color is the joy and exhilaration which these colored
leaves excite. Already these brilliant trees throughout the street,
without any more variety, are at least equal to an annual festival and
holiday, or a week of such. These are cheap and innocent gala-days,
celebrated by one and all without the aid of committees or marshals,
such a show as may safely be licensed, not attracting gamblers or
rum-sellers, nor requiring any special police to keep the peace. And
poor indeed must be that New-England village's October which has not the
Maple in its streets. This October festival costs no powder, nor ringing
of bells, but every tree is a living liberty-pole on which a thousand
bright flags are waving.
No wonder that we must have our annual Cattle-Show, and Fall Training,
and perhaps Cornwallis, our September Courts, and the like. Nature
herself holds her annual fair in October, not only in the streets, but
in every hollow and on every hill-side. When lately we looked into that
Red-Maple swamp all a-blaze,--where the trees were clothed in their
vestures of most dazzling tints, did it not suggest a thousand gypsies
beneath,--a race capable of wild delight,--or even the fabled fawns,
satyrs, and wood-nymphs come back to earth? Or was it only a
congregation of wearied wood-choppers, or of proprietors come to inspect
their lots, that we thought of? Or, earlier still, when we paddled on
the river through that fine-grained September air, did there not appear
to be something new going on under the sparkling surface of the stream,
a shaking of props, at least, so that we made haste in order to be up in
time? Did not the rows of yellowing Willows and Button-Bushes on each
side seem like rows of booths, under which, perhaps, some fluviatile
egg-pop equally yellow was effervescing? Did not all these suggest that
man's spirits should rise as high as Nature's,--should hang out their
flag, and the routine of his life be interrupted by an analogous
expression of joy and hilarity?
No annual training or muster of soldiery, no celebration with its scarfs
and banners, could import into the town a hundredth part of the annual
splendor of our October. We have only to set the trees, or let them
stand, and Nature will find the colored drapery,--flags of all her
nations, some of whose private signals hardly the botanist can
read,--while we walk under the triumphal arches of the Elms. Leave it to
Nature to appoint the days, whether the same as in neighboring States or
not, and let the clergy read her proclamations, if they can understand
them. Behold what a brilliant drapery is her Woodbine flag! What
public-spirited merchant, think you, has contributed this part of the
show? There is no handsomer shingling and paint than this vine, at
present covering a whole side of some houses. I do not believe that the
Ivy _never sear_ is comparable to it. No wonder it has been extensively
introduced into London. Let us have a good many Maples and Hickories and
Scarlet Oaks, then, I say. Blaze away! Shall that dirty roll of bunting
in the gun-house be all the colors a village can display? A village is
not complete, unless it have these trees to mark the season in it. They
are important, like the town-clock. A village that has them not will not
be found to work well. It has a screw loose, an essential part is
wanting. Let us have Willows for spring, Elms for summer, Maples and
Walnuts and Tupeloes for autumn, Evergreens for winter, and Oaks for all
seasons. What is a gallery in a house to a gallery in the streets, which
every market-man rides through, whether he will or not? Of course, there
is not a picture-gallery in the country which would be worth so much to
us as is the western view at sunset under the Elms of our main street.
They are the frame to a picture which is daily painted behind them. An
avenue of Elms as large as our largest and three miles long would seem
to lead to some admirable place, though only C---- were at the end of
A village needs these innocent stimulants of bright and cheering
prospects to keep off melancholy and superstition. Show me two villages,
one embowered in trees and blazing with all the glories of October, the
other a merely trivial and treeless waste, or with only a single tree or
two for suicides, and I shall be sure that in the latter will be found
the most starved and bigoted religionists and the most desperate
drinkers. Every wash-tub and milk-can and gravestone will be exposed.
The inhabitants will disappear abruptly behind their barns and houses,
like desert Arabs amid their rocks, and I shall look to see spears in
their hands. They will be ready to accept the most barren and forlorn
doctrine,--as that the world is speedily coming to an end, or has
already got to it, or that they themselves are turned wrong side
outward. They will perchance crack their dry joints at one another and
call it a spiritual communication.
But to confine ourselves to the Maples. What if we were to take half as
much pains in protecting them as we do in setting them out,--not
stupidly tie our horses to our dahlia-stems?
What meant the fathers by establishing this _perfectly living_
institution before the church,--this institution which needs no
repairing nor repainting, which is continually enlarged and repaired by
its growth? Surely they
"Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Themselves from God they could not free;
They planted better than they knew;--
The conscious trees to beauty grew."
Verily these Maples are cheap preachers, permanently settled, which
preach their half-century, and century, ay, and century-and-a-half
sermons, with constantly increasing unction and influence, ministering
to many generations of men; and the least we can do is to supply them
with suitable colleagues as they grow infirm.
THE SCARLET OAK.
Belonging to a genus which is remarkable for the beautiful form of its
leaves, I suspect that some Scarlet-Oak leaves surpass those of all
other Oaks in the rich and wild beauty of their outlines. I judge from
an acquaintance with twelve species, and from drawings which I have seen
of many others.
Stand under this tree and see how finely its leaves are cut against the
sky,--as it were, only a few sharp points extending from a midrib. They
look like double, treble, or quadruple crosses. They are far more
ethereal than the less deeply scolloped Oak-leaves. They have so little
leafy _terra firma_ that they appear melting away in the light, and
scarcely obstruct our view. The leaves of very young plants are, like
those of full-grown Oaks of other species, more entire, simple, and
lumpish in their outlines; but these, raised high on old trees, have
solved the leafy problem. Lifted higher and higher, and sublimated more
and more, putting off some earthiness and cultivating more intimacy with
the light each year, they have at length the least possible amount of
earthy matter, and the greatest spread and grasp of skyey influences.
There they dance, arm in arm with the light,--tripping it on fantastic
points, fit partners in those aerial halls. So intimately mingled are
they with it, that, what with their slenderness and their glossy
surfaces, you can hardly tell at last what in the dance is leaf and what
is light. And when no zephyr stirs, they are at most but a rich tracery
to the forest-windows.
I am again struck with their beauty, when, a month later, they thickly
strew the ground in the woods, piled one upon another under my feet.
They are then brown above, but purple beneath. With their narrow lobes
and their bold deep scollops reaching almost to the middle, they suggest
that the material must be cheap, or else there has been a lavish expense
in their creation, as if so much had been cut out. Or else they seem to
us the remnants of the stuff out of which leaves have been cut with a
die. Indeed, when they lie thus one upon another, they remind me of a
pile of scrap-tin.
Or bring one home, and study it closely at your leisure, by the
fireside. It is a type, not from any Oxford font, not in the Basque nor
the arrow-headed character, not found on the Rosetta Stone, but destined
to be copied in sculpture one day, if they ever get to whittling stone
here. What a wild and pleasing outline, a combination of graceful curves
and angles! The eye rests with equal delight on what is not leaf and on
what is leaf,--on the broad, free, open sinuses, and on the long, sharp,
bristle-pointed lobes. A simple oval outline would include it all, if
you connected the points of the leaf; but how much richer is it than
that, with its half-dozen deep scollops, in which the eye and thought of
the beholder are embayed! If I were a drawing-master, I would set my
pupils to copying these leaves, that they might learn to draw firmly and
Regarded as water, it is like a pond with half a dozen broad rounded
promontories extending nearly to its middle, half from each side, while
its watery bays extend far inland, like sharp friths, at each of whose
heads several fine streams empty in,--almost a leafy archipelago.
But it oftener suggests land, and, as Dionysius and Pliny compared the
form of the Morea to that of the leaf of the Oriental Plane-tree, so
this leaf reminds me of some fair wild island in the ocean, whose
extensive coast, alternate rounded bays with smooth strands, and
sharp-pointed rocky capes, mark it as fitted for the habitation of man,
and destined to become a centre of civilization at last. To the sailor's
eye. It is a much-indented shore. Is it not, in fact, a shore to the
aerial ocean, on which the windy surf beats? At sight of this leaf we
are all mariners,--if not vikings, buccaneers, and filibusters. Both our
love of repose and our spirit of adventure are addressed. In our most
casual glance, perchance, we think, that, if we succeed in doubling
those sharp capes, we shall find deep, smooth, and secure havens in the
ample bays. How different from the White-Oak leaf, with its rounded
headlands, on which no light-house need be placed! That is an England,
with its long civil history, that may be read. This is some still
unsettled New-found Island or Celebes. Shall we go and be rajahs there?
By the twenty-sixth of October the large Scarlet Oaks are in their
prime, when other Oaks are usually withered. They have been kindling
their fires for a week past, and now generally burst into a blaze. This
alone of _our_ indigenous deciduous trees (excepting the Dogwood, of
which I do not know half a dozen, and they are but large bushes) is now
in its glory. The two Aspens and the Sugar-Maple come nearest to it in
date, but they have lost the greater part of their leaves. Of
evergreens, only the Pitch-Pine is still commonly bright.
But it requires a particular alertness, if not devotion to these
phenomena, to appreciate the wide-spread, but late and unexpected glory
of the Scarlet Oaks. I do not speak here of the small trees and shrubs,
which are commonly observed, and which are now withered, but of the
large trees. Most go in and shut their doors, thinking that bleak and
colorless November has already come, when some of the most brilliant and
memorable colors are not yet lit.
This very perfect and vigorous one, about forty feet high, standing in
an open pasture, which was quite glossy green on the twelfth, is now,
the twenty-sixth, completely changed to bright dark scarlet,--every
leaf, between you and the sun, as if it had been dipped into a scarlet
dye. The whole tree is much like a heart in form, as well as color. Was
not this worth waiting for? Little did you think, ten days ago, that
that cold green tree would assume such color as this. Its leaves are
still firmly attached, while those of other trees are falling around it.
It seems to say,--"I am the last to blush, but I blush deeper than any
of ye. I bring up the rear in my red coat. We Scarlet ones, alone of
Oaks, have not given up the fight."
The sap is now, and even far into November, frequently flowing fast in
these trees, as in Maples in the spring; and apparently their bright
tints, now that most other Oaks are withered, are connected with this
phenomenon. They are full of life. It has a pleasantly astringent,
acorn-like taste, this strong Oak-wine, as I find on tapping them with
Looking across this woodland valley, a quarter of a mile wide, how rich
those Scarlet Oaks, embosomed in Pines, their bright red branches
intimately intermingled with them! They have their full effect there.
The Pine-boughs are the green calyx to their red petals. Or, as we go
along a road in the woods, the sun striking endwise through it, and
lighting up the red tents of the Oaks, which on each side are mingled
with the liquid green of the Pines, makes a very gorgeous scene. Indeed,
without the evergreens for contrast, the autumnal tints would lose much
of their effect.
The Scarlet Oak asks a clear sky and the brightness of late October
days. These bring out its colors. If the sun goes into a cloud, they
become comparatively indistinct. As I sit on a cliff in the southwest
part of our town, the sun is now getting low, and the woods in Lincoln,
south and east of me, are lit up by its more level rays; and in the
Scarlet Oaks, scattered so equally over the forest, there is brought out
a more brilliant redness than I had believed was in them. Every tree of
this species which is visible in those directions, even to the horizon,
now stands out distinctly red. Some great ones lift their red backs high
above the woods, in the next town, like huge roses with a myriad of fine
petals; and some more slender ones, in a small grove of White Pines on
Pine Hill in the east, on the very verge of the horizon, alternating
with the Pines on the edge of the grove, and shouldering them with their
red coats, look like soldiers in red amid hunters in green. This time it
is Lincoln green, too. Till the sun got low, I did not believe that
there were so many redcoats in the forest army. Theirs is an intense
burning red, which would lose some of its strength, methinks, with every
step you might take toward them; for the shade that lurks amid their
foliage does not report itself at this distance, and they are
unanimously red. The focus of their reflected color is in the atmosphere
far on this side. Every such tree becomes a nucleus of red, as it were,
where, with the declining sun, that color grows and glows. It is partly
borrowed fire, gathering strength from the sun on its way to your eye.
It has only some comparatively dull red leaves for a rallying-point, or
kindling-stuff, to start it, and it becomes an intense scarlet or red
mist, or fire, which finds fuel for itself in the very atmosphere. So
vivacious is redness. The very rails reflect a rosy light at this hour
and season. You see a redder tree than exists.
If you wish to count the Scarlet Oaks, do it now. In a clear day stand
thus on a hill-top in the woods, when the sun is an hour high, and every
one within range of your vision, excepting in the west, will be
revealed. You might live to the age of Methuselah and never find a tithe
of them, otherwise. Yet sometimes even in a dark day I have thought them
as bright as I ever saw them. Looking westward, their colors are lost in
a blaze of light; but in other directions the whole forest is a
flower-garden, in which these late roses burn, alternating with green,
while the so-called "gardeners," walking here and there, perchance,
beneath, with spade and water-pot, see only a few little asters amid
These are _my_ China-asters, _my_ late garden-flowers. It costs me
nothing for a gardener. The falling leaves, all over the forest, are
protecting the roots of my plants. Only look at what is to be seen, and
you will have garden enough, without deepening the soil in your yard. We
have only to elevate our view a little, to see the whole forest as a
garden. The blossoming of the Scarlet Oak,--the forest-flower,
surpassing all in splendor (at least since the Maple)! I do not know but
they interest me more than the Maples, they are so widely and equally
dispersed throughout the forest; they are so hardy, a nobler tree on the
whole;--our chief November flower, abiding the approach of winter with
us, imparting warmth to early November prospects. It is remarkable that
the latest bright color that is general should be this deep, dark
scarlet and red, the intensest of colors. The ripest fruit of the year;
like the cheek of a hard, glossy, red apple from the cold Isle of
Orleans, which will not be mellow for eating till next spring! When I
rise to a hill-top, a thousand of these great Oak roses, distributed on
every side, as far as the horizon! I admire them four or five miles off!
This my unfailing prospect for a fortnight past! This late forest-flower
surpasses all that spring or summer could do. Their colors were but rare
and dainty specks comparatively, (created for the nearsighted, who walk
amid the humblest herbs and underwoods,) and made no impression on a
distant eye. Now it is an extended forest or a mountain-side, through or
along which we journey from day to day, that bursts into bloom.
Comparatively, our gardening is on a petty scale,--the gardener still
nursing a few asters amid dead weeds, ignorant of the gigantic asters
and roses, which, as it were, overshadow him, and ask for none of his
care. It is like a little red paint ground on a saucer, and held up
against the sunset sky. Why not take more elevated and broader views,
walk in the great garden, not skulk in a little "debauched" nook of it?
consider the beauty of the forest, and not merely of a few impounded
Let your walks now be a little more adventurous; ascend the hills. If,
about the last of October, you ascend any hill in the outskirts of our
town, and probably of yours, and look over the forest, you may
see--well, what I have endeavored to describe. All this you surely
_will_ see, and much more, if you are prepared to see it,--if you _look_
for it. Otherwise, regular and universal as this phenomenon is, whether
you stand on the hill-top or in the hollow, you will think for
threescore years and ten that all the wood is, at this season, sear and
brown. Objects are concealed from our view, not so much because they are
out of the course of our visual ray as because we do not bring our minds
and eyes to bear on them; for there is no power to see in the eye
itself, any more than in any other jelly. We do not realize how far and
widely, or how near and narrowly, we are to look. The greater part of
the phenomena of Nature are for this reason concealed from us all our
lives. The gardener sees only the gardener's garden. Here, too, as in
political economy, the supply answers to the demand. Nature does not
cast pearls before swine. There is just as much beauty visible to us in
the landscape as we are prepared to appreciate,--not a grain more. The
actual objects which one man will see from a particular hill-top are
just as different from those which another will see as the beholders are
different The Scarlet Oak must, in a sense, be in your eye when you go
forth. We cannot see anything until we are possessed with the idea of
it, take it into our heads,--and then we can hardly see anything else.
In my botanical rambles, I find, that, first, the idea, or image, of a
plant occupies my thoughts, though it may seem very foreign to this
locality,--no nearer than Hudson's Bay,--and for some weeks or months I
go thinking of it, and expecting it unconsciously, and at length I
surely see it. This is the history of my finding a score or more of rare
plants, which I could name. A man sees only what concerns him. A
botanist absorbed in the study of grasses does not distinguish the
grandest Pasture Oaks. He, as it were, tramples down Oaks unwittingly in
his walk, or at most sees only their shadows. I have found that it
required a different intention of the eye, in the same locality, to see
different plants, even when they were closely allied, as _Juncaceoe_ and
_Gramineoe_: when I was looking for the former, I did not see the latter
in the midst of them. How much more, then, it requires different
intentions of the eye and of the mind to attend to different departments
of knowledge! How differently the poet and the naturalist look at
Take a New-England selectman, and set him on the highest of our hills,
and tell him to look,--sharpening his sight to the utmost, and putting
on the glasses that suit him best, (ay, using a spy-glass, if he
likes,)--and make a full report. What, probably, will he _spy_?--what
will he _select_ to look at? Of course, he will see a Brocken spectre of
himself. He will see several meeting-houses, at least, and, perhaps,
that somebody ought to be assessed higher than he is, since he has so
handsome a wood-lot. Now take Julius Caesar, or Immanuel Swedenborg, or
a Fegee-Islander, and set him up there. Or suppose all together, and let
them compare notes afterward. Will it appear that they have enjoyed the
same prospect? What they will see will be as different as Rome was from
Heaven or Hell, or the last from the Fegee Islands. For aught we know,
as strange a man as any of these is always at our elbow.
Why, it takes a sharp-shooter to bring down even such trivial game as
snipes and woodcocks; he must take very particular aim, and know what he
is aiming at. He would stand a very small chance, if he fired at random
into the sky, being told that snipes were flying there. And so is it
with him that shoots at beauty; though he wait till the sky falls, he
will not bag any, if he does not already know its seasons and haunts,
and the color of its wing,--if he has not dreamed of it, so that he can
_anticipate_ it; then, indeed, he flushes it at every step, shoots
double and on the wing, with both barrels, even in cornfields. The
sportsman trains himself, dresses and watches unweariedly, and loads and
primes for his particular game. He prays for it, and offers sacrifices,
and so he gets it. After due and long preparation, schooling his eye and
hand, dreaming awake and asleep, with gun and paddle and boat he goes
out after meadow-hens, which most of his townsmen never saw nor dreamed
of, and paddles for miles against a headwind, and wades in water up to
his knees, being out all day without his dinner, and _therefore_ he gets
them. He had them half-way into his bag when he started, and has only to
shove them down. The true sportsman can shoot you almost any of his game
from his windows: what else has he windows or eyes for? It comes and
perches at last on the barrel of his gun; but the rest of the world
never see it _with the feathers on_. The geese fly exactly under his
zenith, and honk when they get there, and he will keep himself supplied
by firing up his chimney; twenty musquash have the refusal of each one
of his traps before it is empty. If he lives, and his game-spirit
increases, heaven and earth shall fail him sooner than game; and when he
dies, he will go to more extensive, and, perchance, happier
hunting-grounds. The fisherman, too, dreams of fish, sees a bobbing cork
in his dreams, till he can almost catch them in his sink-spout. I knew a
girl who, being sent to pick huckleberries, picked wild gooseberries by
the quart, where no one else knew that there were any, because she was
accustomed to pick them up country where she came from. The astronomer
knows where to go star-gathering, and sees one clearly in his mind
before any have seen it with a glass. The hen scratches and finds her
food right under where she stands; but such is not the way with the
These bright leaves which I have mentioned are not the exception, but
the rule; for I believe that all leaves, even grasses and mosses,
acquire brighter colors just before their fall. When you come to observe
faithfully the changes of each humblest plant, you find that each has,
sooner or later, its peculiar autumnal tint; and if you undertake to
make a complete list of the bright tints, it will be nearly as long as a
catalogue of the plants in your vicinity.
It was late. Palmer, unhitching his horse from the fence, mounted and
rode briskly down the hill. He would lose the girl: saw the loss, faced
it. Besides the love he bore her, she had made God a truth to him. He
was jaded, defeated, as if some power outside of himself had taken him
unexpectedly at advantage to-night, and wrung this thing from him. Life
was not much to look forward to,--the stretch it had been before: study,
and the war, and hard common sense,--the theatre,--card-playing. Not
being a man, I cannot tell you how much his loss amounted to. I know,
going down the rutted wagon-road, his mild face fell slowly into a
haggard vacancy foreign to it: one or two people at the tavern where he
stopped asked him if he were ill: I think, too, that he prayed once or
twice to whatever God he had, looking up with dry eye and shut
lips,--dumb prayers, wrung out of some depth within, such as Christian
sent out of the slough, when he was like to die. But he did stop at the
tavern, and there drank some brandy to steady his nerves; and he did not
forget that there was an ambuscade of Rebels at Blue's Gap, and that he
was to share in the attack on them at daylight: he spurred his horse, as
he drew nearer Romney. Dode, being a woman, thinking love lost, sat by
the fire, looking vacantly at nothing. Yet the loss was as costly to him
as to her, and would be remembered as long.
He came up to the church where the meeting had been held. It was just
over; the crowded room was stifling with the smoke of tobacco and
tallow-candles; there was an American flag hanging over the pulpit, a
man pounding on a drum at the door, and a swarm of loafers on the steps,
cheering for the Union, for Jeff Davis, etc. Palmer dismounted, and made
his way to the pulpit, where Dyke, a lieutenant in his company, was.
"All ready, Dyke?"
"All right, Capt'n."
Palmer lingered, listening to the talk of the men. Dyke had been an
Ohio-River pilot; after the troubles began, had taken a pork-contract
under Government; but was lieutenant now, as I said. It paid better than
pork, he told Palmer,--a commission, especially in damp weather. Palmer
did not sneer. Dykes, North and South, had quit the hog-killing for the
man-killing business, with no other motive than the percentage, he knew;
but he thought the rottenness lay lower than their hearts. Palmer stood
looking down at the crowd: the poorer class of laborers,--their limbs
cased in shaggy blouses and green baize leggings,--their faces dogged,
anxious as their own oxen.
"'Bout half on 'em Secesh," whispered Jim Dyke. "'T depends on who
burned their barns fust."
Jim was recruiting to fill up some vacancies in Palmer's company. He had
been tolerably successful that day; as he said, with a wink, to the
"The twenty dollars a month on one side, an' the test-oath on t' other,
brought loyalty up to the scratch."
He presented some of the recruits to Palmer: pluming himself, adjusting
the bogus chains over his pink shirt.
"Hyur's Squire Pratt. Got two sons in th' army,--goin' hisself. That's
the talk! Charley Orr, show yerself! This boy's father was shot in his
bed by the Bushwhackers."
A mere boy, thin, consumptive, hollow-chested: a mother's-boy, Palmer
saw, with fair hair and dreamy eyes. He held out his hand to him.
"Charley will fight for something better than revenge. I see it in his
The little fellow's eyes flashed.
He watched Palmer after that with the look one of the Cavaliers might
have turned to a Stuart. But he began to cough presently, and slipped
back to the benches where the women were. Palmer heard one of them in
rusty black sob out,--"Oh, Charley! Charley!"
There was not much enthusiasm among the women; Palmer looked at them
with a dreary trail of thought in his brain. They were of the raw,
unclarified American type: thick-blooded, shrewish, with dish-shaped
faces, inelastic limbs. They had taken the war into their whole
strength, like their sisters, North and South: as women greedily do
anything that promises to be an outlet for what power of brain, heart,
or animal fervor they may have, over what is needed for wifehood or
maternity. Theodora, he thought, angrily, looked at the war as these
women did, had no poetic enthusiasm about it, did not grasp the grand
abstract theory on either side. She would not accept it as a fiery,
chivalric cause, as the Abolitionist did, nor as a stern necessity, like
the Union-saver. The sickly Louisianian, following her son from Pickens
to Richmond, besieging God for vengeance with the mad impatience of her
blood, or the Puritan mother praying beside her dead hero-boy, would
have called Dode cowardly and dull. So would those blue-eyed, gushing
girls who lift the cup of blood to their lips with as fervid an
_abandon_ as ever did French _bacchante_. Palmer despised them. Their
sleazy lives had wanted color and substance, and they found it in a cant
of patriotism, in illuminating their windows after slaughter, in
dressing their tables with helmets of sugar, (after the fashion of the
White House,)--delicate _souvenirs de la guerre!_
But Theodora and these women had seen their door-posts slopped with
blood,--that made a difference. This woman in front had found her boy's
half-charred body left tied to a tree by Rebel scouts: this girl was the
grandchild of Naylor, a man of seventy,--the Federal soldiers were fired
at from his house one day,--the next, the old man stood dumb upon its
threshold; in this world, he never would call to God for vengeance.
Palmer knew these things were true. Yet Dode should not for this sink to
low notions about the war. She did: she talked plain Saxon of it, and
what it made of men; said no cause could sanctify a deed so
vile,--nothing could be holy which turned honest men into thieves and
assassins. Her notions were low to degradation, Palmer thought, with the
quickening cause at his heart; they had talked of it the last time he
was here. She thought they struck bottom on some eternal truth, a
humanity broader than patriotism. Pah! he sickened at such whining cant!
The little Captain was common-sensed to the backbone,--intolerant. He
was an American, with the native taint of American conceit, but he was a
man whose look was as true as his oath; therefore, talking of the war,
he never glossed it over,--showed its worst phases, in Virginia and
Missouri; but he accepted it, in all its horror, as a savage necessity.
It was a thing that must be, while men were men, and not angels.
While he stood looking at the crowd, Nabbes, a reporter for one of the
New-York papers, who was lounging in the pulpit, began to laugh at him.
"I say, Captain, you Virginia Loyalists don't go into this war with
_vim_. It's a bitter job to you."
Palmer's face reddened.
"What you say is true, thank God,"--quietly.
Nabbes stuck his hands into his pockets, whistling. He shrewdly
suspected Palmer wasn't "sound." No patriot would go into the war with
such a miserable phiz as that. Yet he fought like a tiger up in the
mountains. Of course, the war was a bad business,--and the taxes--whew!
Last summer things were smashed generally, and when Will (his brother)
sailed in Sherman's expedition, it was a blue day enough: how his mother
and the girls did carry on! (Nabbes and Will supported the family, by
the way; and Nabbes, inside of his slang, billiards, etc., was a good,
soft-hearted fellow.) However, the country was looking up now. There
were our victories,--and his own salary was raised. Will was snug down
at Port Royal,--sent the girls home some confoundedly pretty jewelry;
they were as busy as bees, knitting socks, and--What, the Devil! were we
to be ridden over rough-shod by Davis and his crew? Northern brain and
muscle were toughest, and let water find its own level. So he tore out a
fly-leaf from the big Bible, and jotted down notes of the meeting,--"An
outpouring of the loyal heart of West Virginia,"--and yawned, ready for
bed, contented with the world, himself, and God.
Dyke touched Palmer's arm.
"Lor', Capt'n," he whispered, "ef thar a'n't old Scofield! 'n the back
o' th' house, watchin' you. Son killed at Manassas,--George,--d' ye
"Danged ef I don't respect Secesh like them," broke out Dyke. "Ye'll not
sin his soul with a test-oath. Thar's grit thar. Well, God help us!"
Palmer stepped down from the pulpit; but the old man, seeing him coming,
turned and shouldered his way out of the crowd, his haggard face
"What'll the old chap say to Gaunt's enlistin'?" said Dyke.
"Gaunt in? Bully for the parson!" said Squire Pratt.
"Parson 'listed?" said the reporter. "They and the women led off in this
war. I'm glad of it,--brings out the pith in 'em."
"I dunno," said Dyke, looking round. "Gaunt's name brought in a dozen;
but----It's a dirty business, the war. I wish 'n somebody's hands hed
stayed clean of it."
"It's the Lord's work," said Pratt, with a twang, being a class-leader.
"Ye-s? So 'ud Bishop Polk say. Got a different Lord down thar? 'S
likely. Henry Wise used to talk of the 'God of Virginia.'"
"Was a fellow," said Nabbes, nursing one foot, "that set me easy about
my soul, and the thing. A chaplain in Congress: after we took down that
bitter Mason--and--Slidell pill, it was. Prayed to Jesus to keep us safe
until our vengeance on England was ripe,--to 'aid us through the patient
watch and vigil long of him who treasures up a wrong.' Old boy, thinks
I, if that's Christianity, it's cheap. I'll take stock in it. Going at
half-price, I think."
"I am tired of this cant of Christians refusing to join in the war,"
said Palmer, impatiently. "God allows it; it helps His plans."
"Humph! So did Judas," muttered Dyke, shrewdly. "Well, I a'n't a
purfessor myself.--Boys, come along! Drum-call time. You're in luck.
We'll have work afore mornin',--an' darned ef you sha'n't be in it, in
spite of rules!"
When the recruits went out, the meeting broke up. Palmer put on his hat,
and made his way out of a side-door into the snow-covered field about
the church, glancing at his watch as he went. He had but little time to
spare. The Federal camp lay on a distant hill-side below Romney: through
the dim winter shadows he could see points of light shifting from tent
to tent; a single bugle-call had shrilled through the mountains once or
twice; the regiments ordered for the attack were under arms now, he
concluded. They had a long march before them: the Gap, where the
Confederate band were concealed, lay sixteen miles distant. Unless the
Union troops succeeded in surprising the Rebels, the fight, Palmer knew,
would be desperate; the position they held was almost impregnable,
--camped behind a steep gash in the mountain: a handful of
men could hold it against Dunning's whole brigade, unshielded, bare. A
surprise was almost impossible in these mountains, where Rebel
guerrillas lurked behind every tree, and every woman in the
village-shanties was ready to risk limbs or life as a Rebel spy. Thus
far, however, he thought this movement had been kept secret: even the
men did not know where they were going.
Crossing the field hurriedly, he saw two men talking eagerly behind a
thorn-bush. One of them, turning, came towards him, his hat slouched
over his face. It was Scofield. As he came into the clear starlight,
Palmer recognized the thick-set, sluggish figure and haggard face, and
waited for him,--with a quick remembrance of long summer days, when he
and George, boys together, had looked on this man as the wisest and
strongest, sitting at his side digging worms or making yellow flies for
him to fish in the Big Cacapon,--how they would have the delicate
broiled trout for supper,--how Dode was a chubby little puss then, with
white apron and big brown eyes, choosing to sit on his lap when they
went to the table, and putting her hand slyly into his coffee. An odd
thing to think of then and there! George lay stiff now, with a wooden
board only at his head to tell that he once lived. The thoughts struck
through Palmer's brain in the waiting moment, making his hand unsteady
as he held it out to the old man.
"Uncle Scofield! Is the war to come between you and me? For George's
sake! I saw him at Harper's Ferry before--before Manassas. We were no
less friends then than ever before."
The old man's eyes had glared defiance at Palmer under their gray brows
when he faced him, but his big bony hand kept fumbling nervously with
"Yes, Dougl's. I didn't want to meet yer. Red an' white's my
colors,--red an' white, so help me God!"
"I know," said Palmer, quietly.
There was a silence,--the men looking steadily at each other.
"Ye saw George?" the old man said, his eyes falling.
"Yes. At Harper's Ferry. I was making my way through the Confederate
lines; George took me over, risking his own life to do it, then reported
himself under arrest. He did not lose his commission; your general was
Scofield's face worked.
"That was like my boy! Thar's not a grandfather he hes in the country
whar he's gone to that would believe one of our blood could do a mean
thing! The Scofields ar'n't well larned, but they've true honor,
Palmer's eyes lighted. Men of the old lion-breed know each other in
spite of dress or heirship of opinion.
"Ye've been to th' house to-night, boy?" said the old man, his voice
softened. "Yes? That was right. Ye've truer notions nor me. I went away
so 's not till meet yer. I'm sorry for it. George's gone, Dougl's, but
he'd be glad till think you an' me was the same as ever,--he would!" He
held out his hand. Something worthy the name of man in each met in the
grasp, that no blood spilled could foul or embitter. They walked across
the field together, the old man leaning his hand on Palmer's shoulder as
if for support, though he did not need it. He had been used to walk so
with George. This was his boy's friend: that thought filled and warmed
his heart so utterly that he forgot his hand rested on a Federal
uniform. Palmer was strangely silent.
"I saw Theodora," he said at last, gravely.
Scofield started at the tone, looked at him keenly, some new thought
breaking in on him, frightening, troubling him. He did not answer; they
crossed the broad field, coming at last to the hill-road. The old man
spoke at last, with an effort.
"You an' my little girl are friends, did you mean, Dougl's? The war
didn't come between ye?"
"Nothing shall come between us,"--quietly, his eye full upon the old
man's. The story of a life lay in the look.
Scofield met it questioningly, almost solemnly. It was no time for
explanation. He pushed his trembling hand through his stubby gray hair.
"Well, well, Dougl's. These days is harrd. But it'll come right! God
The road was empty now,--lay narrow and bare down the hill; the moon had
set, and the snow-clouds were graying heavily the pale light above. Only
the sharp call of a discordant trumpet broke the solitude and dumbness
of the hills. A lonesome, foreboding night. The old man rested his hand
on the fence, choking down an uncertain groan now and then, digging into
the snow with his foot, while Palmer watched him.
"I must bid yer good-bye, Dougl's," he said at last. "I've a long tramp
afore me to-night. Mebbe worse. Mayhap I mayn't see you agin; men can't
hev a grip on the next hour, these days. I'm glad we 're friends.
Whatever comes afore mornin', I'm glad o' that!"
"Have you no more to say to me?"
"Yes, Dougl's,--'s for my little girl,--ef so be as I should foller my
boy sometime, I'd wish you'd be friends to Dode, Dougl's. Yes! I
would,"--hesitating, something wet oozing from his small black eye, and
losing itself in the snuffy wrinkles.
Palmer was touched. It was a hard struggle with pain that had wrung out
that tear. The old man held his hand a minute, then turned to the road.
"Whichever of us sees Geordy first kin tell him t' other's livin' a
true-grit honest life, call him Yankee or Virginian,--an' that's enough
said! So good bye, Dougl's!"
Palmer mounted his horse and galloped off to the camp, the old man
plodding steadily down the road. When the echo of the horse's hoofs had
ceased, a lean gangling figure came from out of the field-brush, and met
"Why, David boy! whar were ye to-night?" Scofield's voice had grown
strangely tender in the last hour.
Gaunt hesitated. He had not the moral courage to tell the old man he had
"I waited. I must air the church,--it is polluted with foul smells."
Scofield laughed to himself at David's "whimsey," but he halted, going
with the young man as he strode across the field. He had a dull
foreboding of the end of the night's battle: before he went to it, he
clung with a womanish affection to anything belonging to his home, as
this Gaunt did. He had not thought the poor young man was so dear to
him, until now, as he jogged along beside him, thinking that before
morning he might be lying dead at the Gap. How many people would care?
David would, and Dode, and old Bone.
Gaunt hurried in,--he ought to be in camp, but he could not leave the
house of God polluted all night,--opening the windows, even carrying the
flag outside. The emblem of freedom, of course,--but----He hardly knew
why he did it. There were flags on every Methodist chapel, almost: the
sect had thrown itself into the war _con amore_. But Gaunt had fallen
into that sect by mistake; his animal nature was too weak for it: as for
his feeling about the church, he had just that faint shade of Pantheism
innate in him that would have made a good Episcopalian. The planks of
the floor were more to him than other planks; something else than
sunshine had often shone in to him through the little panes,--he touched
them gently; he walked softly over the rag-carpet on the aisle. The LORD
was in His holy temple. With another thought close behind that, of the
time when the church was built, more than a year ago; what a happy,
almost jolly time they had, the members giving the timber, and making a
sort of frolic of putting it up, in the afternoons after harvest. They
were all in one army or the other now: some of them in Blue's Gap. He
would help ferret them out in the morning. He shivered, with the old
doubt tugging fiercely at his heart. Was he right? The war was one of
God's great judgments, but was it _his_ place to be in it? It was too
late to question now.
He went up into the pulpit, taking out the Bible that lay on the shelf,
lighting a candle, glancing uneasily at the old man on the steps. He
never had feared to meet his eye before. He turned to the fly-leaf,
holding it to the candle. What odd fancy made him want to read the
uncouth, blotted words written there? He knew them well enough. "To my
Dear frend, David Gaunt. May, 1860. the Lord be Betwien mee And thee. J.
Scofield." It was two years since he had given it to Gaunt, just after
George had been so ill with cholera, and David had nursed him through
with it. Gaunt fancied that nursing had made the hearts of both son and
father more tender than all his sermons. He used to pray with them in
the evenings as George grew better, hardly able to keep from weeping
like a woman, for George was very dear to him. Afterwards the old man
came to church more regularly, and George had quit swearing, and given
up card-playing. He remembered the evening when the old man gave him the
Bible. He had been down in Wheeling, and when he came home brought it
out to Gaunt in the old corn-field, wrapped up in his best red bandanna
handkerchief,--his face growing red and pale. "It's the Book, David. I
thort ef you'd use this one till preach from. Mayhap it wouldn't be
right till take it from a sinner like me, but--I thort I'd like it,
somehow,"--showing him the fly-leaf. "I writ this,--ef it would be
true,--what I writ,--'The Lord he between me and thee'?"
Gaunt passed his fingers now over the misspelled words softly as he
would stroke a dead face. Then he came out, putting out the candle, and
buttoning the Bible inside of his coat.
Scofield waited for him on the steps. Some trouble was in the old
fellow's face, Gaunt thought, which he could not fathom. His coarse
voice choked every now and then, and his eyes looked as though he never
hoped to see the church or Gaunt again.
"Heh, David!" with a silly laugh. "You'll think me humorsome, boy, but I
hev an odd fancy."
He stopped abruptly.
"What is it?"
"It's lonesome here,"--looking around vaguely. "God seems near here on
the hills, d' ye think? David, I'm goin' a bit out on the road to-night,
an' life's uncertain these times. Whiles I think I might never be back
to see Dode agin,--or you. David, you're nearer to Him than me; you
brought me to Him, you know. S'pose,--you'll think me foolish now,--ef
we said a bit prayer here afore I go; what d'ye think? Heh?"
Gaunt was startled. Somehow to-night he did not feel as if God was near
on the hills, as Scofield thought.
"I will,"--hesitating. "Are you going to see Dode first, before you go?"
"Dode? Don't speak of her, boy! I'm sick! Kneel down an' pray,--the
Lord's Prayer,--that's enough,--mother taught me that,"--baring his gray
head, while Gaunt, his worn face turned to the sky, said the old words
over. "Forgive," he muttered,--"resist not evil,"--some fragments vexing
his brain. "Did He mean that? David boy? Did He mean His people to trust
in God to right them as He did? Pah! times is different now,"--pulling
his hat over his forehead to go. "Good bye, David!"
"Where are you going?"
"I don't mind tellin' you,--you'll keep it. Bone's bringin' a horse
yonder to the road. I'm goin' to warn the boys to be ready, an' help
'em,--at the Gap, you know?"
"The Gap? Merciful God, no!" cried Gaunt. "Go back"----
The words stopped in his throat. What if he met this man there?
Scofield looked at him, bewildered.
"Thar's no danger," he said, calmly. "Yer nerves are weak. But yer love
for me's true, David. That's sure,"--with a smile. "But I've got to warn
the boys. Good bye,"--hesitating, his face growing red. "Ye'll mind, ef
anything should happen,--what I writ in the Book,--once,--'The Lord be
between me an' thee,' dead or alive? Them's good, friendly words. Good
bye! God bless you, boy!"
Gaunt wrung his hand, and watched him as he turned to the road. He saw
Bone meet him, leading a horse. As the old man mounted, he turned, and,
seeing Gaunt, nodded cheerfully, and going down the hill began to
whistle. "Ef I should never come back, he kin tell Dode I hed a light
heart at th' last," he thought. But when he was out of hearing, the
whistle stopped, and he put spurs to the horse.
Counting the hours, the minutes,--a turbid broil of thought in his
brain, of Dode sitting alone, of George and his murderers, "stiffening
his courage,"--right and wrong mixing each other inextricably together.
If, now and then, a shadow crossed him of the meek Nazarene leaving this
word to His followers, that, let the world do as it would, _they_ should
resist not evil, he thrust it back. It did not suit to-day. Hours
passed. The night crept on towards morning, colder, stiller. Faint bars
of gray fell on the stretch of hill-tops, broad and pallid. The shaggy
peaks blanched whiter in it. You could hear from the road-bushes the
chirp of a snow-bird, wakened by the tramp of his horse, or the flutter
of its wings. Overhead, the stars disappeared, like flakes of fire going
out; the sky came nearer, tinged with healthier blue. He could see the
mountain where the Gap was, close at hand, but a few miles distant.
He had met no pickets: he believed the whole Confederate camp there was
asleep. And behind him, on the road he had just passed, trailing up the
side of a hill, was a wavering, stealthy line, creeping slowly nearer
every minute,--the gray columns under Dunning. The old man struck the
rowels into his horse,--the boys would be murdered in their sleep! The
road was rutted deep: the horse, an old village hack, lumbered along,
stumbling at every step. "Ef my old bones was what they used to be, I'd
best trust them," he muttered. Another hour was over; there were but two
miles before him to the Gap: but the old mare panted and balked at every
ditch across the road. The Federal force was near; even the tap of their
drum had ceased long since; their march was as silent as a tiger's
spring. Close behind,--closer every minute! He pulled the rein
savagely,--why could not the dumb brute know that life and death waited
on her foot? The poor beast's eye lightened. She gathered her whole
strength, sprang forward, struck upon a glaze of ice, and fell. The old
man dragged himself out. "Poor old Jin! ye did what ye could!" he said.
He was lamed by the fall. It was no time to think of that; he hobbled
on, the cold drops of sweat oozing out on his face from pain. Reaching
the bridge that crosses the stream there, he glanced back. He could not
see the Federal troops, but he heard the dull march of their
regiments,--like some giant's tread, slow, muffled in snow.
Closer,--closer every minute! His heavy boots clogged with snow; the
pain exhausted even his thick lungs,--they breathed heavily; he climbed
the narrow ridge of ground that ran parallel with the road, and hurried
on. Half an hour more, and he would save them!
A cold, stirless air: Gaunt panted in it. Was there ever night so
silent? Following his lead, came the long column, a dark, even-moving
mass, shirred with steel. Sometimes he could catch glimpses of some
vivid point in the bulk: a hand, moving nervously to the sword's hilt;
faces,--sensual, or vapid, or royal, side by side, but sharpened alike
by a high purpose, with shut jaws, and keen, side-glancing eyes.
He was in advance of them, with one other man,--Dyke. Dyke took him, as
knowing the country best, and being a trustworthy guide. So this was
work! True work for a man. Marching hour after hour through the solitary
night, he had time to think. Dyke talked to him but little: said once,
"P'raps 't was as well the parsons had wakened up, and was mixin' with
other folks. Gettin' into camp 'ud show 'em original sin, he guessed.
Not but what this war-work brought out good in a man. Makes 'em, or
breaks 'em, ginerally." And then was silent. Gaunt caught the words.
Yes,--it was better preachers should lay off the prestige of the cloth,
and rough it like their Master, face to face with men. There would be
fewer despicable shams among them. But _this?_--clutching the loaded
pistol in his hand. Thinking of Cromwell and Hedley Vicars. Freedom! It
was a nobler cause than theirs. But a Face was before him, white,
thorn-crowned, bent watchful over the world. He was sent of Jesus. To do
what? Preach peace by murder? What said his Master? "That _ye_ resist
not evil." Bah! Palmer said the doctrine of nonresistance was whining
cant. As long as human nature was the same, right and wrong would be
left to the arbitrament of brute force. And yet--was not Christianity a
diviner breath than this passing through the ages? "Ye are the light of
the world." Even the "roughs" sneered at the fighting parsons. It was
too late to think now. He pushed back his thin yellow hair, his homesick
eyes wandering upwards, his mouth growing dry and parched.
They were nearing the mountain now. Dawn was coming. The gray sky heated
and glowed into inner deeps of rose; the fresh morning air sprang from
its warm nest somewhere, and came to meet them, like some one singing a
heartsome song under his breath. The faces of the columns looked more
rigid, paler, in the glow: men facing death have no time for fresh
They were within a few rods of the Gap. As yet there was no sign of
sentinel,--not even the click of a musket was heard. "They sleep like
the dead," muttered Dyke. "We'll be on them in five minutes more."
Gaunt, keeping step with him, pressing up the hill, shivered. He thought
he saw blood on his hands. Why, this was work! His whole body throbbed
as with one pulse. Behind him, a long way, came the column; his
quickened nerves felt the slow beat of their tread, like the breathing
of some great animal. Crouching in a stubble-field at the road-side he
saw a negro,--a horse at a little distance. It was Bone; he had followed
his master: the thought passing vaguely before him without meaning. On!
on! The man beside him, with his head bent, his teeth clenched, the
pupils of his eyes contracted, like a cat's nearing its prey. The road
lay bare before them.
"Halt!" said Dyke. "Let them come up to us."
Gaunt stopped in his shambling gait.
"Look!" hissed Dyke,--"a spy!"--as the figure of a man climbed from a
ditch where he had been concealed as he ran, and darted towards the
rebel camp. "We'll miss them yet!"--firing after him with an oath. The
pistol missed,--flashed in the pan. "Wet!"--dashing it on the ground.
The man looked round; he ran lamely,--a thick, burly figure, a haggard
face. Gaunt's pistol fell. Dode's father! the only man that loved him!
"Damn you!" shouted Dyke, "are you going to shirk?"
Why, this _was_ the work! Gaunt pulled the trigger; there was a blinding
flash. The old man stood a moment on the ridge, the wind blowing his
gray hair back, then staggered, and fell,--that was all.
The column, sweeping up on the double-quick, carried the young disciple
of Jesus with them. The jaws of the Gap were before them,--the enemy.
What difference, if he turned pale, and cried out weakly, looking back
at the man that he had killed?
For a moment the silence was unbroken. The winter's dawn, with pink
blushes, and restless soft sighs, was yet wakening into day. The next,
the air was shattered with the thunder of the guns among the hills,
shouts, curses, death-cries. The speech which this day was to utter in
the years was the old vexed cry,--"How long, O Lord? how long?"
A fight, short, but desperate. Where-ever it was hottest, the men
crowded after one leader, a small man, with a mild, quiet face,--Douglas
Palmer. Fighting with a purpose: high,--the highest, he thought: to
uphold his Government. His blows fell heavy and sure.
You know the end of the story. The Federal victory was complete. The
Rebel forces were carried off prisoners to Romney. How many, on either
side, were lost, as in every battle of our civil war, no one can tell:
it is better, perhaps, we do not know.
The Federal column did not return in an unbroken mass as they went.
There were wounded and dying among them; some vacant places. Besides,
they had work to do on their road back: the Rebels had been sheltered in
the farmers' houses near; the "nest must be cleaned out": every
homestead but two from Romney to the Gap was laid in ashes. It was not a
pleasant sight for the officers to see women and children flying
half-naked and homeless through the snow, nor did they think it would
strengthen the Union sentiment; but what could they do? As great
atrocities as these were committed by the Rebels. The war, as Palmer
said, was a savage necessity.
When the fight was nearly over, the horse which Palmer rode broke from
the _melee_ and rushed back to the road. His master did not guide him.
His face was set, pale; there was a thin foam on his lips. He had felt a
sabre-cut in his side in the first of the engagement, but had not heeded
it: now, he was growing blind, reeling on the saddle. Every bound of the
horse jarred him with pain. His sense was leaving him, he knew; he
wondered dimly if he was dying. That was the end of it, was it? He hoped
to God the Union cause would triumph. Theodora,--he wished Theodora and
he had parted friends. The man fell heavily forward, and the horse,
terrified to madness, sprang aside, on a shelving ledge on the
road-side, the edge of a deep mountain-gully. It was only sand beneath
the snow, and gave way as he touched it. The animal struggled
frantically to regain his footing, but the whole mass slid, and horse
and rider rolled senseless to the bottom. When the noon-sun struck its
peering light that day down into the dark crevice, Palmer lay there,
stiff and stark.
When the Federal troops had passed by that morning, Scofield felt some
one lift him gently, where he had fallen. It was Bone.
"Don't yer try ter stan', Mars' Joe," he said. "I kin tote yer like a
fedder. Lor' bress yer, dis is nuffin'. We'll hev yer roun' 'n no
time,"--his face turning ash-colored as he talked, seeing how dark the
stain was on the old man's waistcoat.
His master could not help chuckling even then.
"Bone," he gasped, "when will ye quit lyin'? Put me down, old fellow.
Easy. I'm goin' fast."
Death did not take him unawares. He had thought all day it would end in
this way. But he never knew who killed him,--I am glad of that.
Bone laid him on a pile of lumber behind some bushes. He could do
little,--only held his big hand over the wound with all his force,
having a vague notion he could so keep in life. He did not comprehend
yet that his master was dying, enough to be sorry: he had a sort of
pride in being nearest to Mars' Joe in a time like this,--in having him
to himself. That was right: hadn't they always been together since they
were boys and set rabbit-traps on the South-Branch Mountain? But there
was a strange look in the old man's eyes Bone did not recognize,--a new
and awful thought. Now and then the sharp crack of the musketry jarred
"Tink dem Yankees is gettin' de Debbil in de Gap," Bone said,
consolingly. "Would yer like ter know how de fight is goin', Mars'?"
"What matters it?" mumbled the old man. "Them things is triflin', after
"Is dar anyting yer'd like me ter git, Mars' Joe?" said Bone, through
The thought of the dying man was darkening fast; he began to mutter
about Dode, and George at Harper's Ferry,--"Give Coly a warm mash
"O Lord!" cried the negro, "ef Mist' Dode was hyur! Him's goin', an'
him's las' breff is given ter de beast! Mars' Joe," calling in his ear,
"fur God's sake say um prayer!"
The man moved restlessly, half-conscious.
"I wish David was here,--to pray for me."
The negro gritted his teeth, choking down an oath.
"I wish,--I thort I'd die at home,--allays. That bed I've slep' in come
thirty years. I wish I was in th' house."
His breath came heavy and at long intervals. Bone gave a crazed look
toward the road, with a wild thought of picking his master up and
carrying him home. But it was nearly over now. The old man's eyes were
dull; they would never see Dode again. That very moment she stood
watching for him on the porch, her face colorless from a sleepless
night, thinking he had been at Romney, that every moment she would hear
his "Hillo!" round the bend of the road. She did not know that could not
be again. He lay now, his limbs stretched out, his grizzly old head in
"Tell Dode I didn't fight. She'll be glad o' that. Thar's no blood on my
hands." He fumbled at his pocket. "My pipe? Was it broke when I fell?
Dody 'd like to keep it, mayhap. She allays lit it for me."
The moment's flash died down. He muttered once or twice, after
that,--"Dode,"--and "Lord Jesus,"--and then his eyes shut. That was all.
They had buried her dead out of her sight. They had no time for mourning
or funeral-making now. They only left her for a day alone to hide her
head from all the world in the coarse old waistcoat, where the heart
that had been so big and warm for her lay dead beneath,--to hug the
cold, haggard face to her breast, and smooth the gray hair. She knew
what the old man had been to her--now! There was not a homely way he had
of showing his unutterable pride and love for his little girl that did
not wring her very soul. She had always loved him; but she knew now how
much warmer and brighter his rough life might have been, if she had
chosen to make it so. There was not a cross word of hers, nor an angry
look, that she did not remember with a bitterness that made her sick as
death. If she could but know he forgave her! It was too late. She
loathed herself, her coldness, her want of love to him,--to all the
world. If she could only tell him she loved him, once more!--hiding her
face in his breast, wishing she could lie there as cold and still as he,
whispering, continually, "Father! Father!" Could he not hear? When they
took him away, she did not cry nor faint. When trouble stabbed Dode to
the quick, she was one of those people who do not ask for help, but go
alone, like a hurt deer, until the wound heals or kills. This was a loss
for life. Of course, this throbbing pain would grieve itself down; but
in all the years to come no one would take just the place her old father
had left vacant. Husband and child might be dearer, but she would never
be "Dody" to any one again. She shut the loss up in her own heart. She
never named him afterwards.
It was a cold winter's evening, that, after the funeral. The January
wind came up with a sharp, dreary sough into the defiles of the hills,
crusting over the snow-sweeps with a glaze of ice that glittered in the
pearly sunlight, clear up the rugged peaks. There, at the edge of them,
the snow fretted and arched and fell back in curling foam-waves with
hints of delicate rose-bloom in their white shining. The trees, that had
stood all winter bare and patient, lifting up their dumb arms in dreary
supplication, suddenly, to-day, clothed themselves, every trunk and limb
and twig, in flashing ice, that threw back into the gray air the royal
greeting of a thousand splendid dyes, violet, amber, and crimson,--to
show God they did not need to wait for summer days to praise Him. A cold
afternoon: even the seeds hid in the mould down below the snow were
chilled to the heart, and thought they surely could not live the winter
out: the cows, when Bone went out drearily to feed them by himself, were
watching the thin, frozen breath steaming from their nostrils with tears
in their eyes, he thought.
A cold day: cold for the sick and wounded soldiers that were jolted in
ambulances down the mountain-roads through its creeping hours. For the
Federal troops had evacuated Romney. The Rebel forces, under Jackson,
had nearly closed around the mountain-camp before they were discovered:
they were twenty thousand strong. Lander's force was but a handful in
comparison: he escaped with them for their lives that day, leaving the
town and the hills in full possession of the Confederates.
A bleak, heartless day: coldest of all for Dode, lying on the floor of
her little room. How wide and vacant the world looked to her! What could
she do there? Why was she born? She must show her Master to others,--of
course; but--she was alone: everybody she loved had been taken from her.
She wished that she were dead. She lay there, trying to pray, now and
then,--motionless, like some death in life; the gray sunlight looking in
at her, in a wondering way. It was quite contented to be gray and cold,
till summer came.
Out in the little kitchen, the day had warmed up wonderfully. Dode's
Aunt Perrine, a widow of thirty years' standing, had come over to "see
to things durin' this murnful affliction." As she had brought her
hair-trunk and bonnet-box, it was probable her stay would be indefinite.
Dode was conscious of her as she would be of an attack of nettle-rash.
Mrs. Perrine and her usual burying-colleague, "Mis' Browst," had gotten
up a snug supper of fried oysters, and between that and the fresh relish
of horror from the funeral were in a high state of enjoyment.
Aunt Perrine, having officiated as chief mourner that very morning, was
not disposed to bear her honors meekly.
"It was little Jane Browst knew of sorrer. With eight gells well
married,--_well_ married, Jane,--deny it, ef you can,--what can you know
of my feelins this day? Hyur's Mahala's husband dead an' gone,--did you
say tea or coffee, Jane?--Joseph Scofield, a good brother-in-law to me's
lives, laid in the sod this day. You may well shake yer head! But who
'll take his place to me? Dode there's young an' 'll outgrow it. But it
's me that suffers the loss,"--with a fresh douse of tears, and a
contemptuous shove of the oyster-plate to make room for her weeping
head. "It's me that's the old 'n' withered trunk!"
Mis' Browst helped herself freely to the oysters just then.
"Not," said Aunt Perrine, with stern self-control, "that I don't submit,
an' bear as a Christian ought."
She took the spoon again.
"'N' I could wish," severely, raising her voice, "'s all others could
profit likewise by this dispensation. Them as is kerried off by
tantrums, 'n' consorts with Papishers 'n' the Lord knows what, might see
in this a judgment, ef they would."
Mis' Browst groaned in concert.
"Ye needn't girn that away, Jane Browst," whispered Aunt Perrine,
emphatically. "Dode Scofield's a different guess sort of a gell from any
Browst. Keep yer groans for yer own nest. Ef I improve the occasion
while she's young an' tender, what's that to you? Look at home, you'd
best, I say!"
Mis' Browst was a woman of resources and English pluck. She always came
out best at last, though her hair was toffy-colored and her eyes a
washed-out blue, and Aunt Perrine was of the color of a mild Indian. Two
of Mis' Browst's sons-in-law had been "burned out" by the Yankees;
another was in the Union army: these trump-cards of misery she did now
so produce and flourish and weep over that she utterly routed the enemy,
reduced her to stolid silence.
"Well, well," she muttered, getting breath. "We'll not talk of our
individooal sorrers when affliction is general, Jane Browst. S'pose we
hev Bone in, and hear the perticklers of the scrimmage at Blue's Gap.
It's little time I've hed for news since,"--with a groan to close the
Mis' Browst sighed an assent, drinking her coffee with a resigned gulp,
with the firm conviction that the civil war had been designed for her
especial trial and enlargement in Christian grace.
So Bone was called in from the cow-yard. His eyes were quite fiery, for
the poor stupid fellow had been crying over the "warm mash" he was
giving to Coly. "Him's las' words was referrin' ter yer, yer pore
beast," he had said, snuffling out loud. He had stayed in the stables
all day, "wishin' all ole she-cats was to home, an' him an' Mist' Dode
could live in peace."
However, he was rather flattered at the possession of so important a
story just now, and in obedience to Aunt Perrine's nod seated himself
with dignity on the lowest step of the garret-stairs, holding carefully
his old felt hat, which he had decorated with streaming weepers of
Dode, pressing her hands to her ears, heard only the dull drone of their
voices. She shut her eyes, sometimes, and tried to fancy that she was
dreaming and would waken presently,--that she would hear her father rap
on the window with his cowhide, and call, "Supper, Dody dear?"--that it
was a dream that Douglas Palmer was gone forever, that she had put him
away. Had she been right? God knew; she was not sure.
It grew darker; the gray afternoon was wearing away with keen gusts and
fitful snow-falls. Dode looked up wearily: a sharp exclamation, rasped
out by Aunt Perrine, roused her.
"Dead? Dougl's dead?"
"Done gone, Mist'. I forgot dat--ter tell yer. Had somefin' else ter
"Down in the gully?"
"Saw him lyin' dar as I went ter git Flynn's cart ter--ter bring Mars'
Joe, yer know,--home. Gone dead. Like he's dar yit. Snow 'ud kiver him
fast, an' de Yankees hedn't much leisure ter hunt up de missin',--yi!
yi!"--with an attempt at a chuckle.
"Dougl's dead!" said Aunt Perrine. "Well!--in the midst of life--Yer not
goin', Jane Browst? What's yer hurry, woman? You've but a step across
the road. Stay to-night. Dode an' me'll be glad of yer company. It's
better to come to the house of murnin' than the house of feastin', you
"You may be thankful you've a house to cover you, Ann Perrine, an'"----
"Yes,--I know. I'm resigned. But there's no affliction like
death.--Bone, open the gate for Mis' Browst. Them hasps is needin'
mendin', as I've often said to Joseph,--um!"
The women kissed each other as often as women do whose kisses
are--cheap, and Mis' Browst set off down the road. Bone, turning to shut
the gate, felt a cold hand on his arm.
"Gor-a'mighty! Mist' Dode, what is it?"
The figure standing in the snow wrapt in a blue cloak shook as he
touched it. Was she, too, struck with death? Her eyes were burning, her
face white and clammy.
"Where is he, Uncle Bone? where?"
The old man understood--all.
"Gone dead, darlin'."--holding her hand in his paw, tenderly. "Don't
fret, chile! Down in de Tear-coat gully. Dead, chile, dead! Don't yer
"He is not dead," she said, quietly. "Open the gate," pulling at the
"Fur de Lor's sake, Mist' Dode, come in 'n' bathe yer feet 'n' go to
bed! Chile, yer crazy!"
Common sense, and a flash of something behind to give it effect, spoke
out of Dode's brown eyes, just then.
"Go into the stable, and bring a horse after me. The cart is broken?"
"Yes, 'm. Dat cussed Ben"----
"Bring the horse,--and some brandy, Uncle Bone."
"Danged ef yer shall kill yerself! Chile, I tell yer he's dead. I'll
call Mist' Perrine."
Her eyes were black now, for an instant; then they softened.
"He is not dead. Come, Uncle Bone. You're all the help I have, now."
The old man's flabby face worked. He did not say anything, but went into
the stable, and presently came out, leading the horse, with fearful
glances back at the windows. He soon overtook the girl going hurriedly
down the road, and lifted her into the saddle.
"Chile! chile! yer kin make a fool of ole Bone, allays."
She did not speak; her face, with its straight-lidded eyes, turned to
the mountain beyond which lay the Tear-coat gully. A fair face under its
blue hood, even though white with pain,--an honorable face: the best a
woman can know of pride and love in life spoke through it.
"Mist' Dode," whined Ben, submissively, "what are yer goin' ter do?
Bring him home?"
"Fur de lub o' heben!"--stopping short. "A Yankee captain in de house,
an' Jackson's men rampin' over de country like devils! Dey'll burn de
place ter de groun', ef dey fin' him."
Bone groaned horribly, then went on doggedly. Fate was against him: his
gray hairs were bound to go down with sorrow to the grave. He looked up
at her wistfully, after a while.
"What'll Mist' Perrine say?" he asked.
Dode's face flushed scarlet. The winter mountain night, Jackson's army,
she did not fear; but the staring malicious world in the face of Aunt
Perrine did make her woman's heart blench.
"It doesn't matter," she said, her eyes full of tears. "I can't help
that, Uncle Bone,"--putting her little hand on his shoulder, as he
walked beside her. The child was so utterly alone, you know.
The road was lonely,--a mere mountain-path striking obliquely through
the hills to the highway: darkening hills and sky and valleys strangely
sinking into that desolate homesick mood of winter twilight. The sun was
gone; one or two sad red shadows lay across the gray. Night would soon
be here, and he lay stiff-cold beneath the snow. Not dead: her heart
told her that imperiously from the first. But there was not one instant
"I cannot wait for you, Uncle Bone. I must go alone."