Part 2 out of 4
seen healthier or happier ones.
I sat with them at their Sunday-evening luncheon. As the minister
bowed his head to say grace I felt him clasp my hand on one side
while the oldest boy clasped my hand on the other, and thus,
linked together, and accepting the stranger utterly, the family
looked up to God.
There was a fine, modest gayety about the meal. In front of Mrs.
Minister stood a very large yellow bowl filled with what she
called rusk--a preparation unfamiliar to me, made by browning and
crushing the crusts of bread and then rolling them down into a
coarse meal. A bowl of this, with sweet, rich, yellow milk (for
they kept their own cow), made one of the most appetizing dishes
that ever I ate. It was downright good: it gave one the unalloyed
aroma of the sweet new milk and the satisfying taste of the crisp
Nor have I ever enjoyed a more perfect hospitality. I have been
in many a richer home where there was not a hundredth part of the
true gentility--the gentility of unapologizing simplicity and
And after it was over and cleared away--the minister himself
donning a long apron and helping his wife--and the chubby baby
put to bed, we all sat around the table in the gathering
I think men perish sometimes from sheer untalked talk. For lack
of a creative listener they gradually fill up with unexpressed
emotion. Presently this emotion begins to ferment, and
finally--bang!--they blow up, burst, disappear in thin air. In
all that community I suppose there was no one but the little
faded wife to whom the minister dared open his heart, and I think
he found me a godsend. All I really did was to look from one to
the other and put in here and there an inciting comment or ask an
understanding question. After he had told me his situation and
the difficulties which confronted him and his small church, he
"A minister should by rights be a leader, not only inside of his
church, but outside it in the community."
"You are right," I exclaimed with great earnestness; "you are
And with that I told him of our own Scotch preacher and how he
led and moulded our community; and as I talked I could see him
actually growing, unfolding, under my eyes.
"Why," said I, "you not only ought to be the moral leader of this
community, but you are!"
"That's what I tell him," exclaimed his wife.
"But he persists in thinking, doesn't he, that he is a poor
"He thinks it too much," she laughed.
"Yes, yes," he said, as much to himself as to us, "a minister
ought to be a fighter!"
It was beautiful, the boyish flush which now came into his face
and the light that came into his eyes. I should never have
identified him with the Black Spectre of the afternoon.
"Why," said I, "you ARE a fighter; you're fighting the greatest
battle in the world today--the only real battle--the battle for
the spiritual view of life."
Oh, I knew exactly what was the trouble with his religion--at
least the religion which, under the pressure of that church he
felt obliged to preach! It was the old, groaning, denying,
resisting religion. It was the sort of religion which sets a man
apart and assures him that the entire universe in the guise of
the Powers of Darkness is leagued against him. What he needed was
a reviving draught of the new faith which affirms, accepts,
rejoices, which feels the universe triumphantly behind it. And so
whenever the minister told me what he ought to be--for he too
sensed the new impulse--I merely told him he was just that. He
needed only this little encouragement to unfold.
"Yes," said he again, "I am the real moral leader here."
At this I saw Mrs. Minister nodding her head vigorously.
"It's you," she said, "and not Mr. Nash, who should lead this
How a woman loves concrete applications. She is your only true
pragmatist. If a philosophy will not work, says she, why bother
The minister rose quickly from his chair, threw back his head,
and strode quickly up and down the room.
"You are right," said he; "and I WILL lead it. I'll have my
farmers' meetings as I planned."
It may have been the effect of the lamplight, but it seemed to me
that little Mrs. Minister, as she glanced up at him, looked
The minister continued to stride up and down the room with his
chin in the air.
"Mr. Nash," said she in a low voice to me, "is always trying to
hold him down and keep him back. My husband WANTS to do the great
"By every right," the minister was repeating, quite oblivious of
our presence, "I should lead these people."
"He sees the weakness of the church," she continued, "as well as
any one, and he wants to start some vigorous community work--have
agricultural meetings and boys' clubs, and lots of things like
that--but Mr. Nash says it is no part of a minister's work: that
it cheapens religion. He says that when a parson--Mr. Nash always
calls him parson, and I just LOATHE that name --has preached, and
prayed, and visited the sick, that's enough for HIM."
At this very moment a step sounded upon the walk, and an instant
later a figure appeared in the doorway.
"Why, Mr. Nash," exclaimed little Mrs. Minister, exhibiting that
astonishing gift of swift recovery which is the possession of
even the simplest women, "come right in."
It was some seconds before the minister could come down from the
heights and greet Mr. Nash. As for me, I was never more
interested in my life.
"Now," said I to myself, "we shall see Christian meet Apollyon."
As soon as Mrs. Minister lighted the lamp I was introduced to the
great man. He looked at me sharply with his small, round eyes,
"Oh, you are the--the man who was in church this afternoon."
I admitted it, and he looked around at the minister with an
accusing expression. He evidently did not approve of me, nor
could I wholly blame him, for I knew well how he, as a rich
farmer, must look upon a rusty man of the road like me. I should
have liked dearly to cross swords with him myself, but greater
events were imminent.
In no time at all the discussion, which had evidently been broken
off at some previous meeting, concerning the proposed farmers'
assembly at the church, had taken on a really lively tone. Mr.
Nash was evidently in the somewhat irritable mood with which
important people may sometimes indulge themselves, for he bit off
his words in a way that was calculated to make any but an
unusually meek and saintly man exceedingly uncomfortable. But the
minister, with the fine, high humility of those whose passion is
for great or true things, was quite oblivious to the harsh words.
Borne along by an irresistible enthusiasm, he told in glowing
terms what his plan would mean to the community, how the people
needed a new social and civic spirit--a "neighbourhood religious
feeling" he called it. And as he talked his face flushed, and his
eyes shone with the pure fire of a great purpose. But I could see
that all this enthusiasm impressed the practical Mr. Nash as mere
moonshine. He grew more and more uneasy. Finally he brought his
hand down with a resounding thwack upon his knee, and said in a
high, cutting voice:
"I don't believe in any such newfangled nonsense. It ain't none
of a parson's business what the community does. You're hired,
ain't you, an' paid to run the church? That's the end of it. We
ain't goin' to have any mixin' of religion an' farmin' in THIS
My eyes were on the pale man of God. I felt as though a human
soul were being weighed in the balance. What would he do now?
What was he worth REALLY as a man as well as a minister?
He paused a moment with downcast eyes. I saw little Mrs. Minister
glance at him--once--wistfully. He rose from his place, drew
himself up to his full height--I shall not soon forget the look
on his face--and uttered these amazing words:
"Martha, bring the ginger-jar."
Mrs. Minister, without a word, went to a little cupboard on the
farther side of the room and took down a brown earthenware jar,
which she brought over and placed on the table, Mr. Nash
following her movements with astonished eyes. No one spoke.
The minister took the jar in his hands as he might the
communion-cup just before saying the prayer of the sacrament.
"Mr. Nash," said he in a loud voice, "I've decided to hold that
Before Mr. Nash could reply the minister seated himself and was
pouring out the contents of the jar upon the table--a clatter of
dimes, nickels, pennies, a few quarters and half dollars, and a
very few bills.
"Martha, just how much money is there?"
"Twenty-four dollars and sixteen cents."
The minister put his hand into his pocket and, after counting out
certain coins, said:
"Here's one dollar and eighty-four cents more. That makes
twenty-six dollars. Now, Mr. Nash, you're the largest contributor
to my salary in this neighbourhood. You gave twenty-six dollars
last year--fifty cents a week. It is a generous contribution, but
I cannot take it any longer. It is fortunate that my wife has
saved up this money to buy a sewing-machine, so that we can pay
back your contribution in full."
He paused; no one of us spoke a word.
"Mr. Nash," he continued, and his face was good to see, "I am the
minister here. I am convinced that what the community needs is
more of a religious and social spirit, and I am going about
getting it in the way the Lord leads me."
At this I saw Mrs. Minister look up at her husband with such a
light in her eyes as any man might well barter his life for--I
could not keep my own eyes from pure beauty of it.
I knew too what this defiance meant. It meant that this little
family was placing its all upon the altar--even the pitiful coins
for which they had skimped and saved for months for a particular
purpose. Talk of the heroism of the men who charged with Pickett
at Gettysburg! Here was a courage higher and whiter than that;
here was a courage that dared to fight alone.
As for Mr. Nash, the face of that Chief Pharisee was a study.
Nothing is so paralyzing to a rich man as to find suddenly that
his money will no longer command him any advantage. Like all
hard-shelled, practical people, Mr. Nash could only dominate in a
world which recognized the same material supremacy that he
recognized. Any one who insisted upon flying was lost to Mr.
The minister pushed the little pile of coins toward him.
"Take it, Mr. Nash," said he.
At that Mr. Nash rose hastily.
"I will not," he said gruffly.
He paused, and looked at the minister with a strange expression
in his small round eyes--was it anger, or was it fear, or could
it have been admiration?
"If you want to waste your time on fiddlin' farmers' meetings--a
man that knows as little of farmin' as you do--why go ahead for
all o' me. But don't count me in."
He turned, reached for his hat, and then went out of the door
into the darkness.
For a moment we all sat perfectly silent, then the minister rose,
and said solemnly:
"Martha, let's sing something."
Martha crossed the room to the cottage organ and seated herself
on the stool.
"What shall we sing?" said she.
"Something with fight in it, Martha," he responded; "something
with plenty of fight in it."
So we sang "Onward, Christian Soldier, Marching as to War," and
followed up with:
Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve
And press with rigour on;
A heavenly race demands thy zeal
And an immortal crown.
When we had finished, and as Martha rose from her seat, the
minister impulsively put his hands on her shoulders, and said:
"Martha, this is the greatest night of my life."
He took a turn up and down the room, and then with an exultant
boyish laugh said:
"We'll go to town to-morrow and pick out that sewing-machine!"
I remained with them that night and part of the following day,
taking a hand with them in the garden, but of the events of that
day I shall speak in another chapter.
CHAPTER V. I PLAY THE PART OF A SPECTACLE PEDDLER
Yesterday was exactly the sort of a day I love best--a spicy,
unexpected, amusing day--crowned with a droll adventure.
I cannot account for it, but it seems to me I take the road each
morning with a livelier mind and keener curiosity. If you were to
watch me narrowly these days you would see I am slowly shedding
my years. I suspect that some one of the clear hill streams from
which I have been drinking (lying prone on my face) was in
reality the fountain of eternal youth. I shall not go back to
It seems to me, when I feel like this, that in every least thing
upon the roadside, or upon the hill, lurks the stuff of
adventure. What a world it is! A mile south of here I shall find
all that Stanley found in the jungles of Africa; a mile north I
am Peary at the Pole!
You there, brown-clad farmer on the tall seat of your wagon,
driving townward with a red heifer for sale, I can show you that
life --your life--is not all a gray smudge, as you think it is,
but crammed, packed, loaded with miraculous things. I can show
you wonders past belief in your own soul. I can easily convince
you that you are in reality a poet, a hero, a true lover, a
It is because we are not humble enough in the presence of the
divine daily fact that adventure knocks so rarely at our door. A
thousand times I have had to learn this truth (what lesson so
hard to learn as the lesson of humility!) and I suppose I shall
have to learn it a thousand times more. This very day, straining
my eyes to see the distant wonders of the mountains, I nearly
missed a miracle by the roadside.
Soon after leaving the minister and his family--I worked with
them in their garden with great delight most of the forenoon--I
came, within a mile--to the wide white turnpike--the Great Road.
Now, I usually prefer the little roads, the little, unexpected,
curving, leisurely country roads. The sharp hills, the pleasant
deep valleys, the bridges not too well kept, the verdure deep
grown along old fences, the houses opening hospitably at the very
roadside, all these things I love. They come to me with the same
sort of charm and flavour, only vastly magnified, which I find
often in the essays of the older writers--those leisurely old
fellows who took time to write, REALLY write. The important thing
to me about a road, as about life--and literature, is not that it
goes anywhere, but that it is livable while it goes. For if I
were to arrive--and who knows that I ever shall arrive?--I think
I should be no happier than I am here.
Thus I have commonly avoided the Great White Road--the broad,
smooth turnpike--rock-bottomed and rolled by a State--without so
much as a loitering curve to whet one's curiosity, nor a thank-
you-ma'am to laugh over, nor a sinful hill to test your
endurance--not so much as a dreamy valley! It pursues its hard,
unshaded, practical way directly from some particular place to
some other particular place and from time to time a motor-car
shoots in at one end of it and out at the other, leaving its dust
to settle upon quiet travellers like me.
Thus to-day when I came to the turnpike I was at first for making
straight across it and taking to the hills beyond, but at that
very moment a motor-car whirled past me as I stood there and a
girl with a merry face waved her hand at me. I lifted my hat in
return--and as I watched them out of sight I felt a curious new
sense of warmth and friendliness there in the Great Road.
"These are just people, too," I said aloud --"and maybe they
really like it!"
And with that I began laughing at myself, and at the whole, big,
amazing, interesting world. Here was I pitying them for their
benighted state, and there were they, no doubt, pitying me for
And with that pleasant and satisfactory thought in my mind and a
song in my throat I swung into the Great Road.
"It doesn't matter in the least," said I to myself, "whether a
man takes hold of life by the great road or the little ones so
long as he takes hold."
And oh, it was a wonderful day! A day with movement in it; a day
that flowed! In every field the farmers were at work, the cattle
fed widely in the meadows, and the Great Road itself was alive
with a hundred varied sorts of activity. Light winds stirred the
tree-tops and rippled in the new grass; and from the thickets I
heard the blackbirds crying. Everything animate and inanimate,
that morning, seemed to have its own clear voice and to cry out
at me for my interest, or curiosity, or sympathy. Under such
circumstances it could not have been long--nor was it
long--before I came plump upon the first of a series of odd
A great many people, I know, abominate the roadside sign. It
seems to them a desecration of nature, the intrusion of rude
commercialism upon the perfection of natural beauty. But not I. I
have no such feeling. Oh, the signs in themselves are often rude
and unbeautiful, and I never wished my own barn or fences to sing
the praises of swamp root or sarsaparilla--and yet there is
something wonderfully human about these painted and pasted
vociferations of the roadside signs; and I don't know why they
are less "natural" in their way than a house or barn or a planted
field of corn. They also tell us about life. How eagerly they
cry out at us, "Buy me, buy me!" What enthusiasm they have in
their own concerns, what boundless faith in themselves! How they
speak of the enormous energy, activity, resourcefulness of human
Indeed, I like all kinds of signs. The autocratic warnings of the
road, the musts and the must-nots of traffic, I observe in
passing; and I often stand long at the crossings and look up at
the finger-posts, and consider my limitless wealth as a
traveller. By this road I may, at my own pleasure, reach the
Great City; by that--who knows?--the far wonders of Cathay. And I
respond always to the appeal which the devoted pilgrim paints on
the rocks at the roadside: "Repent ye, for the kingdom of God is
at hand," and though I am certain that the kingdom of God is
already here, I stop always and repent--just a little--knowing
that there is always room for it. At the entrance of the little
towns, also, or in the squares of the villages, I stop often to
read the signs of taxes assessed, or of political meetings; I see
the evidences of homes broken up in the notices of auction sales,
and of families bereaved in the dry and formal publications of
the probate court. I pause, too, before the signs of amusements
flaming red and yellow on the barns (boys, the circus is coming
to town!), and I pause also, but no longer, to read the silent
signs carved in stone in the little cemeteries as I pass.
Symbols, you say? Why, they're the very stuff of life. If you
cannot see life here in the wide road, you will never see it at
Well, I saw a sign yesterday at the roadside that I never saw
anywhere before. It was not a large sign--indeed rather
inconspicuous--consisting of a single word rather crudely painted
in black (as by an amateur) upon a white board. It was nailed to
a tree where those in swift passing cars could not avoid seeing
[ REST ]
I cannot describe the odd sense of enlivenment, of pleasure I had
when I saw this new sign.
"Rest!" I exclaimed aloud. "Indeed I will," and I sat down on a
stone not far away.
What a sign for this very spot! Here in the midst of the haste
and hurry of the Great Road a quiet voice was saying,"Rest." Some
one with imagination, I thought, evidently put that up; some
quietist offering this mild protest against the breathless
progress of the age. How often I have felt the same way
myself--as though I were being swept onward through life faster
than I could well enjoy it. For nature passes the dishes far more
rapidly than we can help ourselves.
Or perhaps, thought I, eagerly speculating, this may be only some
cunning advertiser with rest for sale (in these days even rest
has its price), thus piquing the curiosity of the traveller for
the disclosure which he will make a mile or so farther on. Or
else some humourist wasting his wit upon the Fraternity of the
Road, too willing (like me, perhaps) to accept his ironical
advice. But it would be well worth while should I find him, to
see him chuckle behind his hand.
So I sat there very much interested, for a long time, even
framing a rather amusing picture in my own mind of the sort of
person who painted these signs, deciding finally that he must be
a zealot rather than a trader or humourist. (Confidentially, I
could not make a picture of him in which he was not endowed with
plentiful long hair). As I walked onward again, I decided that in
any guise I should like to see him, and I enjoyed thinking what I
should say if I met him. A mile farther up the road I saw another
sign exactly like the first.
"Here he is again," I said exultantly, and that sign being
somewhat nearer the ground I was able to examine it carefully
front and back, but it bore no evidence of its origin.
In the next few miles I saw two other signs with nothing on them
but the word "Rest."
Now this excellent admonition--like much of the excellent
admonitions in this world-- affected me perversely: it made me
more restless than ever. I felt that I could not rest properly
until I found out who wanted me to rest, and why. It opened
indeed a limitless vista for new adventure.
Presently, away ahead of me in the road, I saw a man standing
near a one-horse wagon. He seemed to be engaged in some activity
near the roadside, but I could not tell exactly what. As I
hastened nearer I discovered that he was a short, strongly built,
sun-bronzed man in working-clothes--and with the shortest of
short hair. I saw him take a shovel from the wagon and begin
digging. He was the road-worker.
I asked the road-worker if he had seen the curious signs. He
looked up at me with a broad smile (he had good-humoured, very
bright blue eyes).
"Yes," he said, "but they ain't for me."
"Then you don't follow the advice they give?"
"Not with a section like mine," said he, and he straightened up
and looked first one way of the road and then the other. "I have
from Grabow Brook, but not the bridge, to the top o' Sullivan
Hill, and all the culverts between, though two of 'em are by
rights bridges. And I claim that's a job for any full-grown man."
He began shovelling again in the road as if to prove how busy he
was. There had been a small landslide from an open cut on one
side and a mass of gravel and small boulders lay scattered on the
smooth macadam. I watched him for a moment. I love to watch the
motions of vigorous men at work, the easy play of the muscles,
the swing of the shoulders, the vigour of stoutly planted legs.
He evidently considered the conversation closed, and I, as--well,
as a dusty man of the road--easily dismissed. (You have no idea,
until you try it, what a weight of prejudice the man of the road
has to surmount before he is accepted on easy terms by the
ordinary members of the human race.)
A few other well-intentioned observations on my part having
elicited nothing but monosyllabic replies, I put my bag down by
the roadside and, going up to the wagon, got out a shovel, and
without a word took my place at the other end of the landslide
and began to shovel for all I was worth.
I said not a word to the husky road-worker and pretended not to
look at him, but I saw him well enough out of the corner of my
eye. He was evidently astonished and interested, as I knew he
would be: it was something entirely new on the road. He didn't
quite know whether to be angry, or amused, or sociable. I caught
him looking over at me several times, but I offered no response;
then he cleared his throat and said:
"Where you from?"
I answered with a monosyllable which I knew he could not quite
catch. Silence again for some time, during which I shovelled
valiantly and with great inward amusement. Oh, there is nothing
like cracking a hard human nut! I decided at that moment, to have
him invite me to supper.
Finally, when I showed no signs of stopping my work, he himself
paused and leaned on his shovel. I kept right on.
"Say, partner," said he, finally, "did YOU read those signs as
you come up the road?"
"Yes," I said, "but they weren't for me, either. My section's a
long one, too."
"Say, you ain't a road-worker, are you?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes," said I, with a sudden inspiration, "that's exactly what I
"Put her there, then, partner," he said, with a broad smile on
his bronzed face.
He and I struck hands, rested on our shovels (like old hands at
it), and looked with understanding into each other's eyes. We
both knew the trade and the tricks of the trade; all bars were
down between us. The fact is, we had both seen and profited by
the peculiar signs at the roadside.
"Where's your section?" he asked easily.
"Well," I responded after considering the question, "I have a
very long and hard section. It begins at a place called Prosy
Common--do you know it?--and reaches to the top of Clear Hill.
There are several bad spots on the way, I can tell you."
"Don't know it," said the husky road-worker; "'tain't round here,
is it? In the town of Sheldon, maybe?"
Just at this moment, perhaps fortunately, for there is nothing so
difficult to satisfy as the appetite of people for specific
information, a motor-car whizzed past, the driver holding up his
hand in greeting, and the road-worker and I responding in
accordance with the etiquette of the Great Road.
"There he goes in the ruts again," said the husky road-worker.
"Why is it, I'd like to know, that every one wants to run in the
same identical track when they've got the whole wide road before
"That's what has long puzzled me, too," I said. "Why WILL people
continue to run in ruts?"
"It don't seem to do no good to put up signs," said the
"Very little indeed," said I. "The fact is, people have got to be
bumped out of the ruts they get into."
"You're right," said he enthusiastically, and his voice dropped
into the tone of one speaking to a member of the inner guild. "I
know how to get 'em."
"How?" I asked in an equally mysterious voice.
"I put a stone or two in the ruts!"
"Do you?" I exclaimed. "I've done that very thing myself--many a
time! Just place a good hard tru--I mean stone, with a bit of
common dust sprinkled over it, in the middle of the rut, and
they'll look out for THAT rut for some time to come."
"Ain't it gorgeous," said the husky road-worker, chuckling
joyfully, "to see 'em bump?"
"It is," said I--"gorgeous."
After that, shovelling part of the time in a leisurely way, and
part of the time responding to the urgent request of the signs by
the roadside (it pays to advertise!), the husky road-worker and I
discussed many great and important subjects, all, however,
curiously related to roads. Working all day long with his old
horse, removing obstructions, draining out the culverts, filling
ruts and holes with new stone, and repairing the damage of rain
and storm, the road-worker was filled with a world of practical
information covering roads and road-making. And having learned
that I was of the same calling, we exchanged views with the
greatest enthusiasm. It was astonishing to see how nearly in
agreement we were as to what constituted an ideal road.
"Almost everything," said he, "depends on depth. If you get a
good solid foundation, the' ain't anything that can break up
"Exactly what I have discovered," I responded. "Get down to
bedrock and do an honest job of building."
"And don't have too many sharp turns."
"No," said I, "long, leisurely curves are best--all through life.
You have observed that nearly all the accidents on the road are
due to sharp turnings."
"Right you are!" he exclaimed.
"A man who tries to turn too sharply on his way nearly always
"Or else turns turtle in the ditch."
But it was not until we reached the subject of oiling that we
mounted to the real summit of enthusiastic agreement. Of all
things on the road, or above the road, or in the waters under the
road, there is nothing that the road-worker dislikes more than
"It's all right," said he, "to use oil for surfacin' and to keep
down the dust. You don't need much and it ain't messy. But
sometimes when you see oil pumped on a road, you know that either
the contractor has been jobbin', or else the road's worn out and
ought to be rebuilt."
"That's exactly what I've found," said I. "Let a road become
almost impassable with ruts and rocks and dust, and immediately
some man says, 'Oh, it's all right--put on a little oil--'"
"That's what our supervisor is always sayin'," said the
"Yes," I responded, "it usually is the supervisor. He lives by
it. He wants to smooth over the defects, he wants to lay the dust
that every passerby kicks up, he tries to smear over the truth
regarding conditions with messy and ill-smelling oil. Above
everything, he doesn't want the road dug up and rebuilt--says it
will interfere with traffic, injure business, and even set people
to talking about changing the route entirely! Oh, haven't I seen
it in religion, where they are doing their best to oil up roads
that are entirely worn out--and as for politics, is not the cry
of the party-roadster and the harmony-oilers abroad in the land?"
In the excited interest with which this idea now bore me along I
had entirely forgotten the existence of my companion, and as I
now glanced at him I saw him standing with a curious look of
astonishment and suspicion on his face. I saw that I had
unintentionally gone a little too far. So I said abruptly:
"Partner, let's get a drink. I'm thirsty."
He followed me, I thought a bit reluctantly, to a little brook
not far up the road where we had been once before. As we were
drinking, silently, I looked at the stout young fellow standing
there, and I thought to myself:
What a good, straightforward young fellow he is anyway, and how
thoroughly he knows his job. I thought how well he was equipped
with unilluminated knowledge, and it came to me whimsically, that
here was a fine bit of road-mending for me to do.
Most people have sight, but few have insight; and as I looked
into the clear blue eyes of my friend I had a sudden swift
inspiration, and before I could repent of it I had said to him in
the most serious voice that I could command:
"Friend, I am in reality a spectacle-peddler--"
His glance shifted uncomfortably to my gray bag.
"And I want to sell you a pair of spectacles," I said. "I see
that you are nearly blind."
It would be utterly impossible to describe the expression on his
face. His hand went involuntarily to his eyes, and he glanced
quickly, somewhat fearfully, about.
"Yes, nearly blind," said I. "I saw it when I first met you. You
don't know it yourself yet, but I can assure you it is a bad
I paused, and shook my head slowly. If I had not been so much in
earnest, I think I should have been tempted to laugh outright. I
had begun my talk with him half jestingly, with the amusing idea
of breaking through his shell, but I now found myself
tremendously engrossed, and desired nothing in the world (at that
moment) so much as to make him see what I saw. I felt as though I
held a live human soul in my hand.
"Say, partner," said the road-worker, "are you sure you aren't--"
He tapped his forehead and began to edge away.
I did not answer his question at all, but continued, with my eyes
fixed on him:
"It is a peculiar sort of blindness. Apparently, as you look
about, you see everything there is to see, but as a matter of
fact you see nothing in the world but this road--"
"It's time that I was seein' it again then," said he, making as
if to turn back to work, but remaining with a disturbed
expression on his countenance.
"The Spectacles I have to sell," said I, "are powerful
magnifiers"--he glanced again at the gray bag. "When you put them
on you will see a thousand wonderful things besides the road--"
"Then you ain't road-worker after all!" he said, evidently trying
to be bluff and outright with me.
Now your substantial, sober, practical American will stand only
about so much verbal foolery; and there is nothing in the world
that makes him more uncomfortable--yes, downright mad!-- than to
feel that he is being played with. I could see that I had nearly
reached the limit with him, and that if I held him now it must be
by driving the truth straight home. So I stepped over toward him
and said very earnestly:
"My friend, don't think I am merely joking you. I was never more
in earnest in all my life. When I told you I was a road-worker I
meant it, but I had in mind the mending of other kinds of roads
I laid my hand on his arm, and explained to him as directly and
simply as English words could do it, how, when he had spoken of
oil for his roads, I thought of another sort of oil for another
sort of roads, and when he spoke of curves in his roads I was
thinking of curves in the roads I dealt with, and I explained to
him what my roads were. I have never seen a man more intensely
interested: he neither moved nor took his eyes from my face.
"And when I spoke of selling you a pair of spectacles," said I,
"it was only a way of telling you how much I wanted to make you
see my kinds of roads as well as your own."
I paused, wondering if, after all, he could be made to see. I
know now how the surgeon must feel at the crucial moment of his
accomplished operation. Will the patient live or die?
The road-worker drew a long breath as he came out from under the
"I guess, partner," said he, "you're trying to put a stone or two
in my ruts!"
I had him!
"Exactly," I exclaimed eagerly.
We both paused. He was the first to speak--with some
"Say, you're just like a preacher I used to know when I was a
kid. He was always sayin' things that meant something else and
when you found out what he was drivin' at you always felt kind of
queer in your insides."
"It's a mighty good sign," I said, "when a man begins to feel
queer in the insides. It shows that something is happening to
With that we walked back to the road, feeling very close and
friendly--and shovelling again, not saying much. After quite a
time, when we had nearly cleaned up the landslide, I heard the
husky road-worker chuckling to himself; finally, straightening
up, he said:
"Say, there's more things in a road than ever I dreamt of."
"I see," said I, "that the new spectacles are a good fit."
The road-worker laughed long and loud.
"You're a good one, all right," he said. "I see what YOU mean. I
catch your point."
"And now that you've got them on," said I, "and they are serving
you so well, I'm not going to sell them to you at all. I'm going
to present them to you--for I haven't seen anybody in a long time
that I've enjoyed meeting more than I have you."
We nurse a fiction that people love to cover up their feelings;
but I have learned that if the feeling is real and deep they love
far better to find a way to uncover it.
"Same here," said the road-worker simply, but with a world of
genuine feeling in his voice.
Well, when it came time to stop work the road-worker insisted
that I get in and go home with him.
"I want you to see my wife and kids," said he.
The upshot of it was that I not only remained for supper--and a
good supper it was--but I spent the night in his little home,
close at the side of the road near the foot of a fine hill. And
from time to time all night long, it seemed to me, I could hear
the rush of cars going by in the smooth road outside, and
sometimes their lights flashed in at my window, and sometimes I
heard them sound their brassy horns.
I wish I could tell more of what I saw there, of the garden back
of the house, and of all the road-worker and his wife told me of
their simple history--but, the road calls!
When I set forth early this morning the road-worker followed me
out to the smooth macadam (his wife standing in the doorway with
her hands rolled in her apron) and said to me, a bit shyly:
"I'll be more sort o'--sort o' interested in roads since I've
"I'll be along again some of these days," said I, laughing, "and
I'll stop in and show you my new stock of spectacles. Maybe I can
sell you another pair!"
"Maybe you kin," and he smiled a broad, understanding smile.
Nothing brings men together like having a joke in common.
So I walked off down the road--in the best of spirits--ready for
the events of another day.
It will surely be a great adventure, one of these days, to come
this way again--and to visit the Stanleys, and the Vedders, and
the Minister, and drop in and sell another pair of specs to the
Road-worker. It seems to me I have a wonderfully rosy future
ahead of me!
P. S.--I have not yet found out who painted the curious signs;
but I am not as uneasy about it as I was. I have seen two more of
them already this morning--and find they exert quite a
CHAPTER VI. AN EXPERIMENT IN HUMAN NATURE
In the early morning after I left the husky road-mender (wearing
his new spectacles), I remained steadfastly on the Great Road or
near it. It was a prime spring day, just a little hazy, as though
promising rain, but soft and warm.
"They will be working in the garden at home," I thought, "and
there will be worlds of rhubarb and asparagus." Then I remembered
how the morning sunshine would look on the little vine-clad back
porch (reaching halfway up the weathered door) of my own house
among the hills.
It was the first time since my pilgrimage began that I had
thought with any emotion of my farm--or of Harriet.
And then the road claimed me again, and I began to look out for
some further explanation of the curious sign, the single word
"Rest," which had interested me so keenly on the preceding day.
It may seem absurd to some who read these lines--some practical
people!--but I cannot convey the pleasure I had in the very
elusiveness and mystery of the sign, nor how I wished I might at
the next turn come upon the poet himself. I decided that no one
but a poet could have contented himself with a lyric in one word,
unless it might have been a humourist, to whom sometimes a single
small word is more blessed than all the verbal riches of Webster
himself. For it is nothing short of genius that uses one word
when twenty will say the same thing!
Or, would he, after all, turn out to be only a more than
ordinarily alluring advertiser? I confess my heart went into my
throat that morning, when I first saw the sign, lest it read:
[ RESTaurant 2 miles east ]
nor should I have been surprised if it had.
I caught a vicarious glimpse of the sign-man to-day, through the
eyes of a young farmer. Yes, he s'posed he'd seen him, he said;
wore a slouch hat, couldn't tell whether he was young or old.
Drove into the bushes (just down there beyond the brook) and,
standin' on the seat of his buggy, nailed something to a tree. A
day or two later--the dull wonder of mankind!--the young farmer,
passing that way to town, had seen the odd sign "Rest" on the
tree: he s'posed the fellow put it there.
"What does it mean?"
"Well, naow, I hadn't thought," said the young farmer.
"Did the fellow by any chance have long hair?"
"Well, naow, I didn't notice," said he.
"Are you sure he wore a slouch hat?"
"Ye-es--or it may a-been straw," replied the observant young
So I tramped that morning; and as I tramped I let my mind go out
warmly to the people living all about on the farms or in the
hills. It is pleasant at times to feel life, as it were, in
general terms: no specific Mr. Smith or concrete Mr. Jones, but
just human life. I love to think of people all around going out
busily in the morning to their work and returning at night,
weary, to rest. I like to think of them growing up, growing old,
loving, achieving, sinning, failing--in short, living.
In such a live-minded mood as this it often happens that the most
ordinary things appear charged with new significance. I suppose I
had seen a thousand rural-mail boxes along country roads before
that day, but I had seen them as the young farmer saw the
sign-man. They were mere inert objects of iron and wood.
But as I tramped, thinking of the people in the hills, I came
quite unexpectedly upon a sandy by-road that came out through a
thicket of scrub oaks and hazel-brush, like some shy countryman,
to join the turn-pike. As I stood looking into it--for it seemed
peculiarly inviting--I saw at the entrance a familiar group of
rural-mail boxes. And I saw them not as dead things, but for the
moment--the illusion was over-powering--they were living, eager
hands outstretched to the passing throng I could feel, hear, see
the farmers up there in the hills reaching out to me, to all the
world, for a thousand inexpressible things, for more life, more
companionship, more comforts, more money.
It occurred to me at that moment, whimsically and yet somehow
seriously, that I might respond to the appeal of the shy country
road and the outstretched hands. At first I did not think of
anything I could do--save to go up and eat dinner with one of the
hill farmers, which might not be an unmixed blessing!--and then
it came to me.
"I will write a letter!"
Straightway and with the liveliest amusement I began to formulate
in my mind what I should say:
Dear Friend: You do not know me. I am a passerby in the road.
My name is David Grayson. You do not know me, and it may seem
odd to you to receive a letter from an entire stranger. But I am
something of a farmer myself, and as I went by I could not help
thinking of you and your family and your farm. The fact is, I
should like to look you up, and talk with you about many things.
I myself cultivate a number of curious fields, and raise many
kinds of crops--
At this interesting point my inspiration suddenly collapsed, for
I had a vision, at once amusing and disconcerting, of my hill
farmer (and his practical wife!) receiving such a letter (along
with the country paper, a circular advertising a cure for
catarrh, and the most recent catalogue of the largest mail-order
house in creation). I could see them standing there in their
doorway, the man with his coat off, doubtfully scratching his
head as he read my letter, the woman wiping her hands on her
apron and looking over his shoulder, and a youngster squeezing
between the two and demanding, "What is it, Paw?"
I found myself wondering how they would receive such an unusual
letter, what they would take it to mean. And in spite of all I
could do, I could imagine no expression on their faces save one
of incredulity and suspicion. I could fairly see the shrewd
worldly wise look come into the farmer's face; I could hear him
"Ha, guess he thinks we ain't cut our eye-teeth!" And he would
instantly begin speculating as to whether this was a new scheme
for selling him second-rate nursery stock, or the smooth
introduction of another sewing-machine agent.
Strange world, strange world! Sometimes it seems to me that the
hardest thing of all to believe in is simple friendship. Is it
not a comment upon our civilization that it is so often easier to
believe that a man is a friend-for-profit, or even a cheat, than
that he is frankly a well-wisher of his neighbours?
These reflections put such a damper upon my enthusiasm that I was
on the point of taking again to the road, when it came to me
powerfully: Why not try the experiment? Why not?
"Friendship," I said aloud, "is the greatest thing in the world.
There is no door it will not unlock, no problem it will not
solve. It is, after all, the only real thing in this world."
The sound of my own voice brought me suddenly to myself, and I
found that I was standing there in the middle of the public road,
one clenched fist absurdly raised in air, delivering an oration
to a congregation of rural-mail boxes!
And yet, in spite of the humorous aspects of the idea, it still
appeared to me that such an experiment would not only fit in with
the true object of my journeying, but that it might be full of
amusing and interesting adventures. Straightway I got my notebook
out of my bag and, sitting down near the roadside, wrote my
letter. I wrote it as though my life depended upon it, with the
intent of making some one household there in the hills feel at
least a little wave of warmth and sympathy from the great world
that was passing in the road below. I tried to prove the validity
of a kindly thought with no selling device attached to it; I
tried to make it such a word of frank companionship as I myself,
working in my own fields, would like to receive.
Among the letter-boxes in the group was one that stood a little
detached and behind the others, as though shrinking from such
prosperous company. It was made of unpainted wood, with leather
hinges, and looked shabby in comparison with the jaunty red,
green, and gray paint of some of the other boxes (with their
cocky little metallic flags upraised). It bore the good American
name of Clark--T. N. Clark--and it seemed to me that I could tell
something of the Clarks by the box at the crossing.
"I think they need a friendly word," I said to myself.
So I wrote the name T. N. Clark on my envelope and put the letter
in his box.
It was with a sense of joyous adventure that I now turned aside
into the sandy road and climbed the hill. My mind busied itself
with thinking how I should carry out my experiment, how I should
approach these Clarks, and how and what they were. A thousand
ways I pictured to myself the receipt of the letter: it would at
least be something new for them, something just a little
disturbing, and I was curious to see whether it might open the
rift of wonder wide enough to let me slip into their lives.
I have often wondered why it is that men should be so fearful of
new ventures in social relationships, when I have found them so
fertile, so enjoyable. Most of us fear (actually fear) people who
differ from ourselves, either up or down the scale. Your Edison
pries fearlessly into the intimate secrets of matter; your
Marconi employs the mysterious properties of the "jellied ether,"
but let a man seek to experiment with the laws of that singular
electricity which connects you and me (though you be a
millionaire and I a ditch-digger), and we think him a wild
visionary, an academic person. I think sometimes that the science
of humanity to-day is in about the state of darkness that the
natural sciences were when Linneus and Cuvier and Lamarck began
groping for the great laws of natural unity. Most of the human
race is still groaning under the belief that each of us is a
special and unrelated creation, just as men for ages saw no
relationships between the fowls of the air, the beasts of the
field, and the fish of the sea. But, thank God, we are beginning
to learn that unity is as much a law of life as selfish struggle,
and love a more vital force than avarice or lust of power or
place. A Wandering Carpenter knew it, and taught it, twenty
"The next house beyond the ridge," said the toothless old woman,
pointing with a long finger, "is the Clarks'. You can't miss it,"
and I thought she looked at me oddly.
I had been walking briskly for some three miles, and it was with
keen expectation that I now mounted the ridge and saw the farm
for which I was looking, lying there in the valley before me. It
was altogether a wild and beautiful bit of country--stunted
cedars on the knolls of the rolling hills, a brook trailing its
way among alders and willows down a long valley, and shaggy old
fields smiling in the sun. As I came nearer I could see that the
only disharmony in the valley was the work (or idleness) of men.
A broken mowing-machine stood in the field where it had been left
the summer before, rusty and forlorn, and dead weeds marked the
edges of a field wherein the spring ploughing was now only half
done. The whole farmstead, indeed, looked tired. As for the house
and barn, they had reached that final stage of decay in which the
best thing that could be said of them was that they were
picturesque. Everything was as different from the farm of the
energetic and joyous Stanleys, whose work I had shared only a few
days before, as anything that could be imagined.
Now, my usual way of getting into step with people is simplicity
itself. I take off my coat and go to work with them and the first
thing I know we have become first-rate friends. One doesn't dream
of the possibilities of companionship in labour until he has
But how shall one get into step with a man who is not stepping?
On the porch of the farmhouse, there in the mid-afternoon, a man
sat idly; and children were at play in the yard. I went in at the
gate, not knowing in the least what I should say or do, but
determined to get hold of the problem somewhere. As I approached
the step, I swung my bag from my shoulder.
"Don't want to buy nothin'," said the man.
"Well," said I, "that is fortunate, for I have nothing to sell.
But you've got something I want."
He looked at me dully.
"A drink of water."
Scarcely moving his head, he called to a shy older girl who had
just appeared in the doorway.
"Mandy, bring a dipper of water."
As I stood there the children gathered curiously around me, and
the man continued to sit in his chair, saying absolutely nothing,
a picture of dull discouragement.
"How they need something to stir them up," I thought.
When I had emptied the dipper, I sat down on the top step of the
porch, and, without saying a word to the man, placed my bag
beside me and began to open it. The shy girl paused, dipper in
hand, the children stood on tiptoe, and even the man showed signs
of curiosity. With studied deliberation I took out two books I
had with me and put them on the porch; then I proceeded to
rummage for a long time in the bottom of the bag as though I
could not find what I wanted. Every eye was glued upon me, and I
even heard the step of Mrs. Clark as she came to the but I did
not look up or speak. Finally I pulled out my tin whistle and,
leaning back against the porch column, placed it to my lips, and
began playing in Tom Madison's best style (eyes half closed, one
toe tapping to the music, head nodding, fingers lifted high from
the stops), I began playing "Money Musk," and "Old Dan Tucker."
Oh, I put vim into it, I can tell you! And bad as my playing was,
I had from the start an absorption of attention from my audience
that Paderewski himself might have envied. I wound up with a
lively trill in the high notes and took my whistle from my lips
with a hearty laugh, for the whole thing had been downright good
fun, the playing itself, the make-believe which went with it, the
surprise and interest in the children's faces, the slow-breaking
smile of the little girl with the dipper.
"I'll warrant you, madam," I said to the woman who now stood
frankly in the doorway with her hands wrapped in her apron, "you
haven't heard those tunes since you were a girl and danced to
"You're right," she responded heartily.
"I'll give you another jolly one," I said, and, replacing my
whistle, I began with even greater zest to play "Yankee Doodle."
When I had gone through it half a dozen times with such added
variations and trills as I could command, and had two of the
children hopping about in the yard, and the forlorn man tapping
his toe to the tune, and a smile on the face of the forlorn
woman, I wound up with a rush and then, as if I could hold myself
in no longer (and I couldn't either!), I suddenly burst out:
Yankee doodle dandy!
Yankee doodle dandy!
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.
It may seem surprising, but I think I can understand why it
was--when I looked up at the woman in the doorway there were
tears in her eyes!
"Do you know 'John Brown's Body'?" eagerly inquired the little
girl with the dipper, and then, as if she had done something
quite bold and improper, she blushed and edged toward the
"How does it go?" I asked, and one of the bold lads in the yard
instantly puckered his lips to show me, and immediately they were
all trying it.
"Here goes," said I, and for the next few minutes, and in my very
best style, I hung Jeff Davis on the sour apple-tree, and I sent
the soul of John Brown marching onward with an altogether
unnecessary number of hallelujahs.
I think sometimes that people--whole families of 'em--literally
perish for want of a good, hearty, whole-souled, mouth-opening,
throat-stretching, side-aching laugh. They begin to think
themselves the abused of creation, they begin to advise with
their livers and to hate their neighbours, and the whole world
becomes a miserable dark blue place quite unfit for human
habitation. Well, all this is often only the result of a neglect
to exercise properly those muscles of the body (and of the soul)
which have to do with honest laughter.
I've never supposed I was an especially amusing person, but
before I got through with it I had the Clark family well loosened
up with laughter, although I wasn't quite sure some of the time
whether Mrs. Clark was laughing or crying. I had them all
laughing and talking, asking questions and answering them as
though I were an old and valued neighbour.
Isn't it odd how unconvinced we often are by the crises in the
lives of other people? They seem to us trivial or unimportant;
but the fact is, the crises in the life of a boy, for example, or
of a poor man, are as commanding as the crises in the life of the
greatest statesman or millionaire, for they involve equally the
whole personality, the entire prospects.
The Clark family, I soon learned, had lost its pig. A trivial
matter, you say? I wonder if anything is ever trivial. A year of
poor crops, sickness, low prices, discouragement and, at the end
of it, on top of it all, the cherished pig had died!
From all accounts (and the man on the porch quite lost his apathy
in telling me about it) it must have been a pig of remarkable
virtues and attainments, a paragon of pigs-- in whom had been
bound up the many possibilities of new shoes for the children, a
hat for the lady, a new pair of overalls for the gentleman, and I
know not what other kindred luxuries. I do not think, indeed, I
ever had the portrait of a pig drawn for me with quite such
ardent enthusiasm of detail, and the more questions I asked the
more eager the story, until finally it became necessary for me to
go to the barn, the cattle-pen, the pig-pen and the
chicken-house, that I might visualize more clearly the scene of
the tragedy. The whole family trooped after us like a classic
chorus, but Mr. Clark himself kept the centre of the stage.
How plainly I could read upon the face of the land the story of
this hill farmer and his meagre existence--his ill-directed
effort to wring a poor living for his family from these upland
fields, his poverty, and, above all, his evident lack of
knowledge of his own calling. Added to these things, and perhaps
the most depressing of all his difficulties, was the utter
loneliness of the task, the feeling that it mattered little to
any one whether the Clark family worked or not, or indeed whether
they lived or died. A perfectly good American family was here
being wasted, with the precious land they lived on, because no
one had taken the trouble to make them feel that they were a
part of this Great American Job.
As we went back to the house, a freckled-nosed neighbour's boy
came in at the gate.
"A letter for you, Mr. Clark," said he. "I brought it up with our
"A letter!" exclaimed Mrs. Clark.
"A letter!" echoed at least three of the children in unison.
"Probably a dun from Brewster," said Mr. Clark discouragingly.
I felt a curious sensation about the heart, and an eagerness of
interest I have rarely experienced. I had no idea what a mere
letter--a mere unopened unread letter--would mean to a family
"It has no stamp on it!" exclaimed the older girl.
Mrs. Clark turned it over wonderingly in her hands. Mr. Clark
hastily put on a pair of steel-bowed spectacles.
"Let me see it," he said, and when he also had inspected it
minutely he solemnly tore open the envelope and drew forth my
'I assure you I never awaited the reading of any writing of mine
with such breathless interest. How would they take it? Would they
catch the meaning that I meant to convey? And would they suspect
me of having written it?
Mr. Clark sat on the porch and read the letter slowly through to
the end, turned the sheet over and examined it carefully, and
then began reading it again to himself, Mrs. Clark leaning over
"What does it mean?" asked Mr. Clark.
"It's too good to be true," said Mrs. Clark with a sigh.
I don't know how long the discussion might have
continued--probably for days or weeks--had not the older girl,
now flushed of face and rather pretty, looked at me and said
breathlessly (she was as sharp as a briar):
"You wrote it."
I stood the battery of all their eyes for a moment, smiling and
"Yes," I said earnestly, "I wrote it, and I mean every word of
I had anticipated some shock of suspicion and inquiry, but to my
surprise it was accepted as simply as a neighbourly good morning.
I suppose the mystery of it was eclipsed by my astonishing
presence there upon the scene with my tin whistle.
At any rate, it was a changed, eager, interested family which now
occupied the porch of that dilapidated farmhouse. And immediately
we fell into a lively discussion of crops and farming, and indeed
the whole farm question, in which I found both the man and his
wife singularly acute--sharpened upon the stone of hard
Indeed, I found right here, as I have many times found among our
American farmers, an intelligence (a literacy growing out of what
I believe to be improper education) which was better able to
discuss the problems of rural life than to grapple with and solve
them. A dull, illiterate Polish farmer, I have found, will
sometimes succeed much better at the job of life than his
Talk with almost any man for half an hour, and you will find that
his conversation, like an old-fashioned song, has a regularly
recurrent chorus. I soon discovered Mr. Clark's chorus.
"Now, if only I had a little cash," he sang, or, "If I had a few
dollars, I could do so and so."
Why, he was as helplessly, dependent upon money as any
soft-handed millionairess. He considered himself poor and
helpless because he lacked dollars, whereas people are really
poor and helpless only when they lack courage and faith.
We were so much absorbed in our talk that I was greatly surprised
to hear Mrs. Clark's voice at the doorway.
"Won't you come in to supper?"
After we had eaten, there was a great demand for more of my tin
whistle (oh, I know how Caruso must feel!), and I played over
every blessed tune I knew, and some I didn't, four or five times,
and after that we told stories and cracked jokes in a way that
must have been utterly astonishing in that household. After the
children had been, yes, driven to bed, Mr. Clark seemed about to
drop back into his lamentations over his condition (which I have
no doubt had come to give him a sort of pleasure), but I turned
to Mrs. Clark, whom I had come to respect very highly, and began
to talk about the little garden she had started, which was about
the most enterprising thing about the place.
"Isn't it one of the finest things in this world," said I, "to go
out into a good garden in the summer days and bring in loaded
baskets filled with beets and cabbages and potatoes, just for the
I knew from the expression on Mrs. Clark's face that I had
touched a sounding note.
"Opening the green corn a little at the top to see if it is ready
and then stripping it off and tearing away the moist white
"And picking tomatoes?" said Mrs. Clark. "And knuckling the
watermelons to see if they are ripe? Oh, I tell you there are
thousands of people in this country who'd like to be able to pick
their dinner in the garden!"
"It's fine!" said Mrs. Clark with amused enthusiasm, "but I like
best to hear the hens cackling in the barnyard in the morning
after they've laid, and to go and bring in the eggs."
"Just like a daily present!" I said.
"Ye-es," responded the soundly practical Mrs. Clark, thinking, no
doubt, that there were other aspects of the garden and chicken
"I'll tell you another thing I like about a farmer's life," said
I, "that's the smell in the house in the summer when there are
preserves, or sweet pickles, or jam, or whatever it is, simmering
on the stove. No matter where you are, up in the garret or down
cellar, it's cinnamon, and allspice, and cloves, and every sort
of sugary odour. Now, that gets me where I live!"
"It IS good!" said Mrs. Clark with a laugh that could certainly
be called nothing if not girlish.
All this time I had been keeping one eye on Mr. Clark. It was
amusing to see him struggling against a cheerful view of life. He
now broke into the conversation.
"Well, but--" he began.
Instantly I headed him off.
"And think," said I, "of living a life in which you are beholden
to no man. It's a free life, the farmer's life. No one can
discharge you because you are sick, or tired, or old, or because
you are a Democrat or a Baptist!"
"And think of having to pay no rent, nor of having to live
upstairs in a tenement!"
"Or getting run over by a street-car, or having the children play
in the gutters."
"I never did like to think of what my children would do if we
went to town," said Mrs. Clark.
"I guess not!" I exclaimed.
The fact is, most people don't think half enough of themselves
and of their jobs; but before we went to bed that night I had the
forlorn T. N. Clark talking about the virtues of his farm in
quite a surprising way.
I even saw him eying me two or three times with a shrewd look in
his eyes (your American is an irrepressible trader) as though I
might possibly be some would-be purchaser in disguise.
(I shall write some time a dissertation on the advantages, of
wearing shabby clothing.)
The farm really had many good points. One of them was a shaggy
old orchard of good and thriving but utterly neglected
"Man alive," I said, when we went out to see it in the morning,
"you've got a gold mine here!" And I told him how in our
neighbourhood we were renovating the old orchards, pruning them
back, spraying, and bringing them into bearing again.
He had never, since he owned the place, had a salable crop of
fruit. When we came in to breakfast I quite stirred the practical
Mrs. Clark with my enthusiasm, and she promised at once to send
for a bulletin on apple-tree renovation, published by the state
experiment station. I am sure I was no more earnest in my advice
than the conditions warranted.
After breakfast we went into the field, and I suggested that
instead of ploughing any more land--for the season was already
late--we get out all the accumulations of rotted manure from
around the barn and strew it on the land already ploughed and
harrow it in.
"A good job on a little piece of land," I said, "is far more
profitable than a poor job on a big piece of land."
Without more ado we got his old team hitched up and began
loading, and hauling out the manure, and spent all day long at
it. Indeed, such was the height of enthusiasm which T. N. Clark
now reached (for his was a temperament that must either soar in
the clouds or grovel in the mire), that he did not wish to stop
when Mrs. Clark called us in to supper. In that one day his crop
of corn, in perspective, overflowed his crib, he could not find
boxes and barrels for his apples, his shed would not hold all his
tobacco, and his barn was already being enlarged to accommodate a
couple more cows! He was also keeping bees and growing ginseng.
But it was fine, that evening, to see Mrs. Clark's face, the
renewed hope and courage in it. I thought as I looked at her (for
she was the strong and steady one in that house):
"If you can keep the enthusiasm up, if you can make that husband
of yours grow corn, and cows, and apples as you raise chickens
and make garden, there is victory yet in this valley."
That night it rained, but in spite of the moist earth we spent
almost all of the following day hard at work in the field, and
all the time talking over ways and means for the future, but the
next morning, early, I swung my bag on my back and left them.
I shall not attempt to describe the friendliness of our parting.
Mrs. Clark followed me wistfully to the gate.
"I can't tell you--" she began, with the tears starting in her
"Then don't try--" said I, smiling.
And so I swung off down the country road, without looking back.
CHAPTER VII. THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY
In some strange deep way there is no experience of my whole
pilgrimage that I look back upon with so much wistful affection
as I do upon the events of the day--the day and the wonderful
night--which followed my long visit with the forlorn Clark family
upon their hill farm. At first I hesitated about including an
account of it here because it contains so little of what may be
called thrilling or amusing incident.
"They want only the lively stories of my adventures," I said to
myself, and I was at the point of pushing my notes to the edge of
the table where (had I let go) they would have fallen into the
convenient oblivion of the waste-basket. But something held me
"No," said I, "I'll tell it; if it means so much to me, it may
mean something to the friends who are following these lines."
For, after all, it is not what goes on outside of a man, the
clash and clatter of superficial events, that arouses our deepest
interest, but what goes on inside. Consider then that in this
narrative I shall open a little door in my heart and let you look
in, if you care to, upon the experiences of a day and a night in
which I was supremely happy.
If you had chanced to be passing, that crisp spring morning, you
would have seen a traveller on foot with a gray bag on his
shoulder, swinging along the country road; and you might have
been astonished to see him lift his hat at you and wish you a
good morning. You might have turned to look back at him, as you
passed, and found him turning also to look back at you--and
wishing he might know you. But you would not have known what he
was chanting under his breath as he tramped (how little we know
of a man by the shabby coat he wears), nor how keenly he was
enjoying the light airs and the warm sunshine of that fine spring
After leaving the hill farm he had walked five miles up the
valley, had crossed the ridge at a place called the Little Notch,
where all the world lay stretched before him like the open palm
of his hand, and had come thus to the boundaries of the
Undiscovered Country. He had been for days troubled with the deep
problems of other people, and it seemed to him this morning as
though a great stone had been rolled from the door of his heart,
and that he was entering upon a new world--a wonderful, high,
free world. And, as he tramped, certain lines of a stanza long
ago caught up in his memory from some forgotten page came up to
his lips, and these were the words (you did not know as you
passed) that he was chanting under his breath as he tramped, for
they seem charged with the spirit of the hour:
I've bartered my sheets for a starlit bed;
I've traded my meat for a crust of bread;
I've changed my book for a sapling cane,
And I'm off to the end of the world again.
In the Undiscovered Country that morning it was wonderful how
fresh the spring woods were, and how the birds sang in the trees,
and how the brook sparkled and murmured at the roadside. The
recent rain had washed the atmosphere until it was as clear and
sparkling and heady as new wine, and the footing was firm and
hard. As one tramped he could scarcely keep from singing or
shouting aloud for the very joy of the day.
"I think," I said to myself, "I've never been in a better
country," and it did not seem to me I cared to know where the
gray road ran, nor how far away the blue hills were.
"It is wonderful enough anywhere here," I said.
And presently I turned from the road and climbed a gently sloping
hillside among oak and chestnut trees. The earth was well
carpeted for my feet, and here and there upon the hillside, where
the sun came through the green roof of foliage, were warm
splashes Of yellow light, and here and there, on shadier slopes,
the new ferns were spread upon the earth like some lacy coverlet.
I finally sat down at the foot of a tree where through a rift in
the foliage in the valley below I could catch a glimpse in the
distance of the meadows and the misty blue hills. I was glad to
rest, just rest, for the two previous days of hard labour, the
labour and the tramping, had wearied me, and I sat for a long
time quietly looking about me, scarcely thinking at all, but
seeing, hearing, smelling--feeling the spring morning, and the
woods and the hills, and the patch of sky I could see.
For a long, long time I sat thus, but finally my mind began to
flow again, and I thought how fine it would be if I had some good
friend there with me to enjoy the perfect surroundings--some
friend who would understand. And I thought of the Vedders with
whom I had so recently spent a wonderful day; and I wished that
they might be with me; there were so many things to be said--to
be left unsaid. Upon this it occurred to me, suddenly,
whimsically, and I exclaimed aloud:
"Why, I'll just call them up."
Half turning to the trunk of the tree where I sat, I placed one
hand to my ear and the other to my lips and said:
"Hello, Central, give me Mr. Vedder."
I waited a moment, smiling a little at my own absurdity and yet
quite captivated by the enterprise.
"Is this Mr. Vedder? Oh, Mrs. Vedder! Well, this is David
Grayson." . . . .
"Yes, the very same. A bad penny, a rolling stone." . . . .
"Yes. I want you both to come here as quickly as you can. I have
the most important news for you. The mountain laurels are
blooming, and the wild strawberries are setting their fruit. Yes,
yes, and in the fields--all around here, to-day there are
wonderful white patches of daisies, and from where I sit I can
see an old meadow as yellow as gold with buttercups. And the
bobolinks are hovering over the low spots. Oh, but it is fine
here-- and we are not together!" . . . .
"No; I cannot give exact directions. But take the Long Road and
turn at the turning by the tulip-tree, and you will find me at
home. Come right in without knocking."
I hung up the receiver. For a single instant it had seemed almost
true, and indeed I believe--I wonder--
Some day, I thought, just a bit sadly, for I shall probably not
be here then--some day, we shall be able to call our friends
through space and time. Some day we shall discover that
marvellously simple coherer by which we may better utilize the
mysterious ether of love.
For a time I was sad with thoughts of the unaccomplished future,
and then I reflected that if I could not call up the Vedders so
informally I could at least write down a few paragraphs which
would give them some faint impression of that time and place. But
I had no sooner taken out my note-book and put down a sentence or
two than I stuck fast. How foolish and feeble written words are
anyway! With what glib facility they describe, but how
inadequately they convey. A thousand times I have thought to
myself, " If only I could WRITE!"
Not being able to write I turned, as I have so often turned
before, to some good old book, trusting that I might find in the
writing of another man what I lacked in my own. I took out my
battered copy of Montaigne and, opening it at random, as I love
to do, came, as luck would have it, upon a chapter devoted to
coaches, in which there is much curious (and worthless)
information, darkened with Latin quotations. This reading had an
unexpected effect upon me.
I could not seem to keep my mind down upon the printed page; it
kept bounding away at the sight of the distant hills, at the
sound of a woodpecker on a dead stub which stood near me, and at
the thousand and one faint rustlings, creepings, murmurings,
tappings, which animate the mystery of the forest. How dull
indeed appeared the printed page in comparison with the book of
life, how shut-in its atmosphere, how tinkling and distant the
sound of its voices. Suddenly I shut my book with a snap.
"Musty coaches and Latin quotations!" I exclaimed. "Montaigne's
no writer for the open air. He belongs at a study fire on a quiet
I had anticipated, when I started out, many a pleasant hour by
the roadside or in the woods with my books, but this was almost
the first opportunity I had found for reading (as it was almost
the last), so full was the present world of stirring events. As
for poor old Montaigne, I have been out of harmony with him ever
since, nor have I wanted him in the intimate case at my elbow.
After a long time in the forest, and the sun having reached the
high heavens, I gathered up my pack and set forth again along the
slope of the hills--not hurrying, just drifting and enjoying
every sight and sound. And thus walking I came in sight, through
the trees, of a glistening pool of water and made my way straight
A more charming spot I have rarely seen. In some former time an
old mill had stood at the foot of the little valley, and a
ruinous stone dam still held the water in a deep, quiet pond
between two round hills. Above it a brook ran down through the
woods, and below, with a pleasant musical sound, the water
dripped over the mossy stone lips of the dam and fell into the
rocky pool below. Nature had long ago healed the wounds of men;
she had half-covered the ruined mill with verdure, had softened
the stone walls of the dam with mosses and lichens, and had crept
down the steep hillside and was now leaning so far out over the
pool that she could see her reflection in the quiet water.
Near the upper end of the pond I found a clear white sand-bank,
where no doubt a thousand fishermen had stood, half hidden by the
willows, to cast for trout in the pool below. I intended merely
to drink and moisten my face, but as I knelt by the pool and saw
my reflection in the clear water wanted something more than that!
In a moment I had thrown aside my bag and clothes and found
myself wading naked into the water.
It was cold! I stood a moment there in the sunny air, the great
world open around me, shuddering, for I dreaded the plunge--and
then with a run, a shout and a splash I took the deep water. Oh,
but it was fine! With long, deep strokes I carried myself fairly
to the middle of the pond. The first chill was succeeded by a
tingling glow, and I can convey no idea whatever of the glorious
sense of exhilaration I had. I swam with the broad front stroke,
I swam on my side, head half submerged, with a deep under stroke,
and I rolled over on my back and swam with the water lapping my
chin. Thus I came to the end of the pool near the old dam,
touched my feet on the bottom, gave a primeval whoop, and dove
back into the water again. I have rarely experienced keener
physical joy. After swimming thus boisterously for a time, I
quieted down to long, leisurely strokes, conscious of the water
playing across my shoulders and singing at my ears, and finally,
reaching the centre of the pond, I turned over on my back and,
paddling lazily, watched the slow procession of light clouds
across the sunlit openings of the trees above me. Away up in the
sky I could see a hawk slowly swimming about (in his element as I
was in mine), and nearer at hand, indeed fairly in the thicket
about the pond, I could hear a wood-thrush singing.
And so, shaking the water out of my hair and swimming with long
and leisurely strokes, I returned to the sand-bank, and there,
standing in a spot of warm sunshine, I dried myself with the
towel from my bag. And I said to myself:
"Surely it is good to be alive at a time like this!"
Slowly I drew on my clothes, idling there in the sand, and
afterward I found an inviting spot in an old meadow where I threw
myself down on the grass under an apple-tree and looked up into
the shadowy places in the foliage above me. I felt a delicious
sense of physical well-being, and I was pleasantly tired.
So I lay there--and the next thing I knew, I turned over, feeling
cold and stiff, and opened my eyes upon the dusky shadows of late
evening. I had been sleeping for hours!
The next few minutes (or was it an hour or eternity?), I recall
as containing some of the most exciting and, when all is said,
amusing incidents in my whole life. And I got quite a new glimpse
of that sometimes bumptious person known as David Grayson.
The first sensation I had was one of complete panic. What was I
to do? Where was I to go?
Hastily seizing my bag--and before I was half awake--I started
rapidly across the meadow, in my excitement tripping and falling
several times in the first hundred yards. In daylight I have no
doubt that I should easily have seen a gateway or at least an
opening from the old meadow, but in the fast-gathering darkness
it seemed to me that the open field was surrounded on every side
by impenetrable forests. Absurd as it may seem, for no one knows
what his mind will do at such a moment, I recalled vividly a
passage from Stanley's story of his search for Livingstone, in
which he relates how he escaped from a difficult place in the
jungle by KEEPING STRAIGHT AHEAD.
I print these words in capitals because they seemed written that
night upon the sky. KEEPING STRAIGHT AHEAD, I entered the forest
on one side of the meadow (with quite a heroic sense of
adventure), but scraped my shin on a fallen log and ran into a
tree with bark on it that felt like a gigantic currycomb--and
Up to this point I think I was still partly asleep. Now, however,
I waked up.
"All you need," said I to myself in my most matter-of-fact tone,
"is a little cool sense. Be quiet now and reason it out."
So I stood there for some moments reasoning it out, with the
result that I turned back and found the meadow again.
"What a fool I've been!" I said. "Isn't it perfectly plain that I
should have gone down to the pond, crossed over the inlet, and
reached the road by the way I came?"
Having thus settled my problem, and congratulating myself on my
perspicacity, I started straight for the mill-pond, but to my
utter amazement, in the few short hours while I had been asleep,
that entire body of water had evaporated, the dam had
disappeared, and the stream had dried up. I must certainly
present the facts in this remarkable case to some learned
I then decided to return to the old apple-tree where I had slept,
which now seemed quite like home, but, strange to relate, the
apple-tree had also completely vanished from the enchanted
meadow. At that I began to suspect that in coming out of the
forest I had somehow got into another and somewhat similar old
field. I have never had a more confused or eerie sensation; not
fear, but a sort of helplessness in which for an instant I
actually began to doubt whether it was I myself, David Grayson,
who stood there in the dark meadow, or whether I was the victim
of a peculiarly bad dream. I suppose many other people have had
these sensations under similar conditions, but they were new to
I turned slowly around and looked for a light; I think I never
wanted so much to see some sign of human habitation as I did at
What a coddled world we live in, truly. That being out after dark
in a meadow should so disturb the very centre of our being! In
all my life, indeed, and I suppose the same is true of
ninety-nine out of a hundred of the people in America to-day, I
had never before found myself where nothing stood between nature
and me, where I had no place to sleep, no shelter for the
night--nor any prospect of finding one. I was infinitely less
resourceful at that moment than a rabbit, or a partridge, or a
Presently I sat down on the ground where I had been standing,
with a vague fear (absurd to look back upon) that it, too, in
some manner might slip away from under me. And as I sat there I
began to have familiar gnawings at the pit of my stomach, and I
remembered that, save for a couple of Mrs. Clark's doughnuts
eaten while I was sitting on the hillside, ages ago, I had had
nothing since my early breakfast.
With this thought of my predicament--and the glimpse I had of
myself "hungry and homeless"--the humour of the whole situation
suddenly came over me, and, beginning with a chuckle, I wound up,
as my mind dwelt upon my recent adventures, with a long, loud,
As I laughed--and what a roar it made in that darkness!--I got up
on my feet and looked up at the sky. One bright star shone out
over the woods, and in high heavens I could see dimly the white
path of the Milky Way. And all at once I seemed again to be in
command of myself and of the world. I felt a sudden lift and
thrill of the spirits, a warm sense that this too was part of the
great adventure--the Thing Itself.
"This is the light," I said looking up again at the sky and the
single bright star, "which is set for me to-night. I will make my
bed by it."
I can hope to make no one understand (unless he understands
already) with what joy of adventure I now crept through the
meadow toward the wood. It was an unknown, unexplored world I was
in, and I, the fortunate discoverer, had here to shift for
himself, make his home under the stars! Marquette on the wild
shores of the Mississippi, or Stanley in Africa, had no joy that
I did not know at that moment.
I crept along the meadow and came at last to the wood. Here I
chose a somewhat sheltered spot at the foot of a large tree--and
yet a spot not so obscured that I could not look out over the
open spaces of the meadow and see the sky. Here, groping in the
darkness, like some primitive creature, I raked together a pile
of leaves with my fingers, and found dead twigs and branches of
trees; but in that moist forest (where the rain had fallen only
the day before) my efforts to kindle a fire were unavailing. Upon
this, I considered using some pages from my notebook, but another
alternative suggested itself:
"Why not Montaigne?"
With that I groped for the familiar volume, and with a curious
sensation of satisfaction I tore out a handful of pages from the
"Better Montaigne than Grayson," I said, with a chuckle. It was
amazing how Montaigne sparkled and crackled when he was well
"There goes a bundle of quotations from Vergil," I said, "and
there's his observations on the eating of fish. There are more
uses than one for the classics."
So I ripped out a good part of another chapter, and thus, by
coaxing, got my fire to going. It was not difficult after that to
find enough fuel to make it blaze up warmly.
I opened my bag and took out the remnants of the luncheon which
Mrs. Clark had given me that morning; and I was surprised and
delighted to find, among the other things, a small bottle of
coffee. This suggested all sorts of pleasing possibilities and,
the spirit of invention being now awakened, I got out my tin cup,
split a sapling stick so I could fit it into the handle, and set
the cup, full of coffee, on the coals at the edge of the fire. It
was soon heated, and although I spilled some of it in getting it
off, and although it was well spiced with ashes, I enjoyed it,
with Mrs. Clark's doughnuts and sandwiches (some of which I
toasted with a sapling fork) as thoroughly, I think, as ever I
enjoyed any meal.
How little we know--we who dread life--how much there is in life!
My activities around the fire had warmed me to the bone, and
after I was well through with my meal I gathered a plentiful
supply of wood and placed it near at hand, I got out my
waterproof cape and put it on, and, finally piling more sticks on
the fire, I sat down comfortably at the foot of the tree.
I wish I could convey the mystery and the beauty of that night.
Did you ever sit by a campfire and watch the flames dance, and
the sparks fly upward into the cool dark air? Did you ever see
the fitful light among the tree-depths, at one moment opening
vast shadowy vistas into the forest, at the next dying downward
and leaving it all in sombre mystery? It came to me that night
with the wonderful vividness of a fresh experience.
And what a friendly and companionable thing a campfire is! How
generous and outright it is! It plays for you when you wish so be
lively, and it glows for you when you wish to be reflective.
After a while, for I did not feel in the least sleepy, I stepped
out of the woods to the edge of the pasture. All around me lay
the dark and silent earth, and above the blue bowl of the sky,
all glorious with the blaze of a million worlds. Sometimes I have
been oppressed by this spectacle of utter space, of infinite
distance, of forces too great for me to grasp or understand, but
that night it came upon me with fresh wonder and power, and with
a sense of great humility that I belonged here too, that I was a
part of it all--and would not be neglected or forgotten. It
seemed to me I never had a moment of greater faith than that.
And so, with a sense of satisfaction and peace, I returned to my
fire. As I sat there I could hear the curious noises of the
woods, the little droppings, cracklings, rustlings which seemed
to make all the world alive. I even fancied I could see small
bright eyes looking out at my fire, and once or twice I was
almost sure I heard voices--whispering--perhaps the voices of the
Occasionally I added, with some amusement, a few dry pages of
Montaigne to the fire, and watched the cheerful blaze that
"No," said I, "Montaigne is not for the open spaces and the
stars. Without a roof over his head Montaigne would--well, die of
So I sat all night long there by the tree. Occasionally I dropped
into a light sleep, and then, as my fire died down, I grew chilly
and awakened, to build up the fire and doze again. I saw the
first faint gray streaks of dawn above the trees, I saw the pink
glow in the east before the sunrise, and I watched the sun
himself rise upon a new day--
When I walked out into the meadow by daylight and looked about me
curiously, I saw, not forty rods away, the back of a barn.
"Be you the fellow that was daown in my cowpasture all night?"
asked the sturdy farmer.
"I'm that fellow," I said.
"Why didn't you come right up to the house?"
"Well--" I said, and then paused.
"Well . . ." said I.
CHAPTER VIII. THE HEDGE
Strange, strange, how small the big world is!
"Why didn't you come right into the house?" the sturdy farmer had
asked me when I came out of the meadow where I had spent the
night under the stars.
"Well," I said, turning the question as adroitly as I could,
"I'll make it up by going into the house now."
So I went with him into his fine, comfortable house.
"This is my wife," said he.
A woman stood there facing me. "Oh!" she exclaimed, "Mr.
I recalled swiftly a child--a child she seemed then--with braids
down her back, whom I had known when I first came to my farm. She
had grown up, married, and had borne three children, while I had
been looking the other way for a minute or two. She had not been
in our neighborhood for several years.
"And how is your sister and Doctor McAlway?"