|The Miracle Play of 1870, in Bethlehem, N.H.||191|
|A Glimpse of Country Winter in New Hampshire||196|
|A Morning in a Vermont Graveyard||201|
“Hide-and-Seek Town” was the cover story in Scribner’s Monthly, vol. 12, no. 4 (August 1876), pg. 449ff. All illustrations are taken from the magazine. The illustrator is uncredited; I couldn’t find a monogram or similar identifying feature. The original was printed in two columns, so some illustration placements are approximate.
At the end of his enumerations you are as much at a loss as you were in the beginning, and probably end by jumping out before the first house at which the stage stops. Pages have been written about the inquisitiveness of the rural New Englander; comparatively little has been said about his faculty of reticence at will, which is quite as remarkable. I doubt if any man can be found to match him in a series of evasive and noncommittal replies. This habit or instinct is so strong in him, that it often acts mechanically when he would not have it, as, for instance, when he is trying to tell you the road to a place.
There is a mile to go up hill before you reach the town. The first part of the road is walled on the right hand by a wood,—a thick wall of oaks, birches, maples, pines, chestnuts, hickories, beeches, ashes, spruces and cornels; yes, all these growing so close that none can grow broad, but all must grow high, and, stretch up however much they may, their branches are interwoven. This is one of the great pleasures in Hide-and-Seek Town,—the unusual variety of tree growths by the road-sides and in the forests. I do not know of a single New England tree which is not found in luxuriant abundance.
On the left-hand side of the road are what are called by the men who own them, “pastures.” Considered as pastures from an animal’s point of view, they must be disappointing; stones for bread to a cruel extent they give. Considered as landscape, they have, to the trained eye, a charm and fascination which smooth, fulsome meadow levels cannot equal. There can be no more exquisite tones of color, no daintier mosaic, than one sees if he looks attentively on an August day at these fields of gray granite, lichen-painted bowlders lying in beds of light-green ferns, bordered by pink and white spiræas, and lighted up by red lilies.
The stretches of stone wall tone down to an even gray in the distances, and have a dignity and significance which no other expedient for boundary-marking has attained. They make of each farm a little walled principality, of each field an approach to a fortress; and if one thinks of the patience which it must need to build them by the mile, they seem at once to take a place among enduring records or race memorials. I suppose that a hundred years would make little or no impression on a well-built stone wall. I know that I spent many happy hours in my childhood on one which was even then very old, and must be now well on the way to its centennial.
There was a mile to go up hill. We have come half way. The wood wall has ceased; open fields on either side give us long stretches of view to the north and to the south. The road-sides are as thick-set with green growths as the sides of English lanes. To my thinking they are more beautiful; copses of young locusts, birches, thickets of blackberry and raspberry bushes, with splendid waving tops like pennons; spiræa, golden rod, purple thistle, sumach with red pompons, and woodbine flinging itself over each and all in positions of inimitable grace and abandon. How comes it that the New Englander learns to carry himself so stiffly, in spite of the perpetual dancing-master lessons of his road-sides? With each rod that we rise the outlook 178 grows wider; the uplands seem to roll away farther and farther; the horizons look like sea-horizons, distant and misty, and the white houses of the town might be signal stations. Presently we come out upon a strange rocky plateau, small, with abrupt sides falling off in all directions but one, like cliff walls. This is the centre of the town. It is simply a flattened expanse of a mountain spur. The mountain itself is only three thousand feet high, and this plateau is nearly half way up.
It would seem a brave thing, the climbing up here to build frame-houses to take the brunt of such winds as sweep across this ridge; but the Indians were so much fiercer than the winds, that I dare say those early settlers never observed the howling of the gales which today keep many a nervous person wide-awake of nights. The mountain was a great rendezvous of hostile Indians in the days when the Colony of Massachusetts Bay was fighting hand to hand for life. There are some old, tattered leather-bound books behind the counter of “the store,” which are full of interesting records of that time. There are traditions of Governors’ visits a hundred years before the Revolution; and a record of purchase of twelve square miles, “not including the mountain,” for twenty-three pounds, from three sachems of the Nipmucks. In 1743 the first settlement was made on the present town site, by a man who, being too poor to buy, petitioned the Colonial Government to give him the land for his home, setting forth, “that your petitioner, though a poor man, yet he humbly apprehends he hath the character of an Honest and Laborious man, and is minded to settle himself and his Family thereon.”
It was given to him on the condition that he should keep a house for the accommodation of travellers “going West!” Immortal phrase, which only the finality of an ocean can stay.
Twenty years later, the handful of settlers voted “to hire four days’ preaching in May next, to begin ye first 179 Sabbath, if a minister can be conveniently procured,” and that Christian charity was as clearly understood then as to-day may be seen by another record a few pages further on, of the town’s vote to pass on to the next settlement, a poor tramp with his family: “Hepzibah, his wife, Joseph, Isaac, Thankful, Jeduthun, Jonathan, and Molly, their children.” There is an inexplicable fascination in this faded old record on the ragged page. Poor fellow; a wife and six children in such a wilderness, with no visible means of support! Why did they call that first girl “Thankful”? And what can it be in the sound of the word Jeduthun, which makes one so sure that, of all the six children, Jeduthun was the forlornest? As we approach the Revolutionary period, the records grow more distinct. There is even a sort of defiant flourish in the very tails to the y’s and g’s, with which that ancient clerk, God rest his soul, records that the town had voted, “not to pay the Minute Men for training;” and that the minister is to be “inquired of” for his conduct in “refusing to call a Fast,” and for his “Publick Discourses to the Minute Men, as tending to discourage people in defending their Rights and Liberties,” and, “for taking cattle suspected to be Colonel Jones’s.” A wide range of delinquencies, surely! A little later, a committee is appointed to “keep him out of the pulpit.” One wonders if in those days ministers were in the habit, or under the necessity, of knocking down in the aisles all parishioners who didn’t wish to hear them preach.
“Thy word commands our flesh to dust;
Return, ye sons of men;
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.”
Another, quite near, bearing the same date, takes the same uncomfortable license of rhyme:—
“Alas! this brittle clay,
Which built our bodies first,
And every month, and every day,
’Tis mouldering back to dust!”
Seven years later, a man, who was, as his grave-stone sets forth, “inhumanly murdered” by one of his townsmen, was laid to rest, under the following extraordinary stanza:—
“Passengers, behold! My friends, and view,
Breathless I lie; no more with you;
Hurried from life; sent to the grave;
Jesus my only hope to save;
No warning had of my sad fate;
Till dire the stroke, alas! too late!”
Side by side with him sleeps a neighbor, dead in the same year, whose philosophical relatives took unhandsome opportunity of his head-stone to give this posthumous snub:—
“How valued once, avails thee not;
To whom related, or by whom begot;
A little dust is all remains of thee;
’Tis all thou art,—and all I soon must be.”
The sudden relenting candor of the last phrase but imperfectly atones for the gratuitous derogation of the first two lines. Surely, in those old days only the very queer survived! And, among the queerest, must have been the man who could carve upon a fellow-man’s tomb such a light tripping measure as this:—
“This languishing head is at rest;
Its thinking and aching are o’er.
This quiet, immovable breast
Is heaved by affliction no more.
This heart is no longer the seat
Of trouble and sorrowing pain;
It ceases to flutter and beat;
It never will flutter again.”
But one cannot afford to spend in the old grave-yard, many of his summer days in Hide-and-Seek Town. Fascinating as are these dead men’s sunny silent homes with the quaint inscriptions on their stone lintels, there is a greater fascination in the sunny silent homes of the living, and the roads leading to and fro among them. North, south, east, and west, the roads run, cross, double, and turn, and double again; as many and as intricate as the fine-spun lines of a spider’s web. You shall go no more than six or seven miles in any direction without climbing up, or creeping down, to some village; and the outlying farms of each meet midway, and join hands in good fellowship.
There is a fine and unbroken net-work of industry and comfort over the whole region. Not a poverty-stricken house to be seen; not one; not a single long stretch of lonely wilderness; even across the barrenest and rockiest hill-tops, and through the densest woods, run the compact lines of granite walls, setting the sign and seal of ownership and care on every acre. The houses are all of the New England type; high, narrow-angled, white, ugly, and comfortable. They seem almost as silent as the mounds in the grave-yard, with every blind shut tight, save one, or perhaps two, at the back, where the kitchen is; with the front door locked, and guarded by a pale but faithful “Hydrangy;” they have somehow the expression of a person with lips compressed and finger laid across them, rigid with resolve to keep a secret. It is the rarest thing to see a sign of life, as you pass by on a week day. Even the hens step gingerly, as if fearing to make a noise on the grass; the dog may bark a little at you if he be young; but, if he is old, he has learned the ways of the place, and only turns his head languidly at the noise of wheels. At sunset, you may possibly see the farmer sitting on the porch, with a newspaper. But his chair is tipped back against the side of the house; the newspaper is folded on his knee, and his eyes are shut. Calm and blessed folk! If they only knew how great is the gift of their 183 quiet, they would take it more gladly, and be serene instead of dull, thankful instead of discontented.
They have their tragedies, however; tragedies as terrible as any that have ever been written or lived. Wherever are two human hearts, there are the elements ready for fate to work its utmost with, for weal or woe. On one of these sunny hill-sides is a small house, left unpainted so many years, that it has grown gray as a granite bowlder. Its doors are always shut, its windows tightly curtained to the sill. The fence around it is falling to pieces, the gates are off the hinges; old lilac bushes with bluish mouldy-looking leaves crowd the yard as if trying their best to cover up something.
For years, no ray of sunlight has entered this house. You might knock long and loud, and you would get no answer; you would pass on, sure that nobody could be living there. No one is living there. Yet, in some one of the rooms sits or lies a woman who is not dead. She is past eighty. When she was a girl, she loved a man who loved her sister, and not her. Perhaps then, as now, men made love idly, first to one, next to another, even among sisters. At any rate, this girl so loved the man who was to be her sister’s husband, that it was known and whispered about. And when the day came for the wedding, the minister, being, perhaps, a nervous man, and having this poor girl’s sad fate much in his thoughts, made the terrible mistake of calling her name instead of her sister’s, in the ceremony. As soon as the poor creature heard her name, she uttered a loud shriek and fled. Strangely enough, no one had the presence of mind to interrupt the minister and set his blunder right, and the bride was actually married, not by her own name, but by her sister’s. From that day the sister shunned every one. She insisted that the bridegroom had been married to her; but she wished never again to see a human face. She is past eighty, and has not yet been able to die. Winter before last, in the time of terrible cold, it was noticed for a day or two that no smoke came out of the chimney of this old 184 house. On the fourth day, the neighbors broke open the door and went in. They found the woman lying insensible on the floor, nearly frozen. A few embers were smouldering on the hearth. When they roused her to consciousness, she cursed them fiercely for having disturbed her; but, as the warmth from fire and wine began to steal into her blood, she thanked them,—the only words of thankfulness heard from her lips for a half century. After all, she did not want to die! She has relatives who go to the house often and carry her food. She knows their voices, and, after parleying with them a few minutes through the closed door, will open it, take the food, and sometimes allow them to come in. I have twice seen her standing, at twilight, in the dank shade of her little yard, and fumbling aimlessly at the leaves of the lilacs. She did not raise her head, nor look toward the road, and I dared not speak to her. A gliding shape in a graveyard at midnight would not have seemed half so uncanny, so little of this world.
He who stays one month in Hide-and-Seek Town may take each day a new drive, and go on no day over a road he has seen before. A person of a statistical turn of mind, who knows the region well, has taken pains to find this out. We are more indebted than we realize to this type of person. Their facts furnish cloth for our fancies to come abroad in. There are souls of such make that, to them, any one of these roads must seem enough for a summer; for that matter, enough for any number of summers; and, in trying to frame a few of their beauties in words, to speak of them by the mile would seem as queer and clumsy as if one, in describing a sunset, should pull out his almanac and remind you that there were likely to be three hundred and sixty odd of them in a year. Yet, there is no doubt that, to the average mind, the statement that there are thirty different drives in a town would be more impressive than it would be if one could produce on his page, as on a canvas, a perfect picture of the beauty of one, or even 185 many of its landscapes; to choose which one of the thirty roads one would best try to describe to win a stranger’s care and liking, is as hard as to choose between children. There is such an excelling quality in each. After all, choice here, as elsewhere, is a question of magnetism. Places have their affinities to men, as much as men to each other; and fields and lanes have their moods also. I have brought one friend to meet another friend, and neither of them would speak; I have taken a friend to a hillside, and I myself have perceived that the hillside grew dumb and its face clouded.
If I may venture, without ever after feeling like a traitor to the rest, to give chief name to one or two of the Hide-and-Seek roads, I would speak of two,—one is a highway, the other is a lane. The highway leads in a north-westerly direction to a village on the shore of a lake. It is seven miles long. Three of those miles are through pine woods,—“the long woods,” they are called, with curt literalness, by the people who tell you your way. Not so literal either, if you take the word at its best, for these miles of hushed pines are as solemn as eternity. The road is wide and smooth. Three carriages, perhaps four, might go abreast in it through these pine stretches. There is no fence on either side, and the brown carpet of fallen pine-needles fringes out to the very ruts of the wheels.
Who shall reckon our debt to the pine? It takes such care of us, it must love us, wicked as we are. It builds us roofs; no others keep out sun so well. It spreads a finer than Persian mat under our feet, provides for us endless music and a balsam of healing in the air; then, when it finds us in barren places where bread is hard to get, it loads itself down with cones full of a sweet and wholesome food, and at last, in its death, it makes our very hearthstones ring with its resonant song of cheer and mirth.
Before entering these woods, you have driven past 186 farms and farmhouses, and meadow lands well tilled; old unpruned apple orchards, where the climax of ungainliness comes to have a sort of pathetic grace; fields of oats and barley and Indian corn and granite bowlders, and not an inch of roadside all the way which is not thick grown with white clover. Rabbit’s foot, Mayweed, shepherd’s purse, ferns, blackberry, raspberry, elderberry, and here and there laurel, and in September blue gentians. There is one bit of meadow I recollect on this road. It is set in walls of pines; four little streams zigzag through it. You cross all four on narrow bridges, in a space of two or three rods; the strips of meadow and strips of brooks seem braided together into a strand of green and blue, across which is flung your road of gray, bordered with dark alders. This is the way it must look to a bird flying over.
The lane is one of many ways to a village on a hill lying west of this town. The hill is so high that, as you look westward, its spires and housetops stand out against the sky, with not even a tree in the background. In this lane nature has run riot. It is to all the rest of the Hide-and-Seek roads what California is to New England. All the trees and plants are ,—twenty, thirty per cent interest on every square foot. One ignorant of botany has no right to open his mouth about it, and only a master of color should go into it to paint. It is an outburst, a tangle, an overflow, of greens, of whites, of purples, of yellows. For rods at a time there are solid knitted and knotted banks of vines on either hand,—woodbine, groundnut vine, wild or “false” buckwheat, clivis, green-brier, and wild grape. The woodbine wreaths the stone walls; the groundnut vine springs from weed to weed, bush to bush, tree to tree, fantastically looping them all together, and then, at last, leaps off at top of a golden rod or sumach bough, waving a fine spiral taper tendril a foot long, loose in the air. The false buckwheat, being lightest, gets a-top of the rest and scrambles 187 along fastest, making in July a dainty running arabesque of fine, white flowers above every thing else. The clivis and the green-brier fill in wherever they can get a corner. They are not so pushing. Then comes the wild grape, lawless master of every situation. There is a spot on this lane where it has smothered and well-nigh killed one young oak, and one young maple and a sumach thicket. They have their heads out still, and very beautiful they look,—the shining, jagged-edged oak leaves, and the pointed maples, and the slender sumachs, waving above and in the matted canopies of the grape; but they will never be trees. The grapevine is strongest. This lane leads over high hill-crests, from which you have ever-changing views,—now wide sweeps to the south horizon, now dainty and wood-framed bits of near valleys or lakes, now outcropping granite ledges and spots strewn thick with granite bowlders, as grand and stony as Stonehenge itself. Now the lane dips down into hollows in woods so thick that for rods the branches more than meet over your head; then it turns a corner and suddenly fades away in the queer front door-yard of a farm-house flanked by orchards and cornfields; then it dips again into a deeper hollow and denser wood, with thick undergrowths, which brush your wheels like hands thrust out to hold you back; then it comes out on a meadow stretch, where the lines of alders and milkweeds, and eupatoriums and asters, border it so close that you may pick, on any September day, your hands full of flowers, if you like, by merely leaning out of your carriage; not only flowers, but ferns,—high three-branched brakes and graceful ostrich-plume ferns you can reach from your seat. These are but glimpses I have given of any chance half-mile on this lane. There are myriads of beautiful lesser things all along it whose names I do not know, but whose faces are as familiar as if I had been born in the lane and had never gone away. There are also numberless pictures which come 188 crowding,—of spots and nooks, and pictures on other roads and lanes in this rarest of regions. No one, who knows and loves summer, can summer in Hide-and-Seek Town without bearing away such pictures; if he neither knows nor loves summer, if he have only a retina and not a soul, he must, perforce, recollect some of them. A certain bridge, for instance, three planks wide, under which goes a brook so deep, so dark, it shines not like water, but like a burnished shield. It comes out from a wood; and, in the black shadow of the trees along the edge of the brook stand, in August, scarlet cardinal flowers, ranks on ranks, two feet high, reflected in the burnished shield as in a glass; or a meadow there is which is walled on three sides by high woods, and has a procession of tall bulrushes for ever sauntering through it with lazy spears and round-handled halberds, points down, and hundreds of yellow sunflowers looking up and down in the grass; or a wood there is, which has all of a sudden, in its centre, a great cleared space, where ferns have settled themselves as in a tropic, and grown into solid thickets and jungles in the darkness; or another, which has along the roadside for many rods an unbroken line of light green, feathery ferns, so close set it seems that not one more could have grown up without breaking down a neighbor; under these a velvety line of pine-tree moss, and the moss dotted thick with “wintergreen” in flower and in fruit; or a lake, with three sides of soft woods or fields, and the fourth side an unbroken forest slope two thousand feet up the north wall of the mountain. These are a few which come first to my thought; others crowd on, but I force memory and fancy together back into the strait-jacket of the statistical person, and content myself with repeating that there are thirty different drives in Hide-and-Seek Town!
Next winter, however, memory and fancy will have their way; and, as we sit cowering over fires, and the snow piles up outside our window-sills, we shall gaze 189 dreamily into the glowing coals, and, living the summer over again, shall recall it in a minuteness of joy, for which summer days were too short and summer light too strong. Then, when joy becomes reverie, and reverie takes shape, a truer record can be written, and its first page shall be called
In myriad snowy chalices of sweet
Thou spread’st by dusty ways a banquet fine,
So fine that vulgar crowds of it no sign
Observe; nay, trample it beneath their feet.
O, dainty and unsullied one! no meet
Interpretation I of thee divine,
Although all summer long I quaff thy wine,
And never pass thee but to reverent greet,
And pause in wonder at the miracle
Of thee, so fair, and yet so meekly low.
Mayhap thou art a saintly Princess, vowed,
In token of some grief which thee befell,
This pilgrimage of ministry to go,
And never speak thy lineage aloud!
Thou gypsy camper, how camest thou here,
With thy vagabond habits full in sight,
In this rigid New England’s noonday light?
I laugh half afraid at thy riotous cheer,
In these silent roads so stony and drear;
Thy breathless tendrils flushed scarlet and bright
Thy leaves blowing back dishevelled and white.
Thyself in mad wrestle with every thing near;
No pine-tree so high, no oak-tree so strong,
That it can resist thy drunken embrace;
Together, like bacchanals reeling along.
Staying each other, ye go at a pace,
And the roadside laughs and reaps all your wealth:
Thou prince of highwaymen! I drink thy health!190
O, patient creature with a peasant face,
Burnt by the summer sun, begrimed with stains,
And standing humbly in the dusty lanes!
There seems a mystery in thy work and place,
Which crowns thee with significance and grace;
Whose is the milk that fills thy faithful veins?
What royal nursling comes at night and drains
Unscorned the food of the plebeian race?
By day I mark no living thing which rests
On thee, save butterflies of gold and brown,
Who turn from flowers that are more fair, more sweet,
And, crowding eagerly, sink fluttering down,
And hang, like jewels flashing in the heat,
Upon thy splendid rounded purple breasts.
All the trees and plants are millionaires
text has millionnaires (spelled correctly in Scribner’s)
One does not need to go to Ammergau. On a night, not of appointment beforehand, so far as we knew, we went to sleep in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. We were content, but not expectant. Ranges of mountains, solid, blue, and stately hedging us round, yet leaving open for our untiring gaze so wide a circle, that, at its outer rim, even in clearest days, lingers a purple haze; near fields of brown ferns, scarlet cornels, and gray bowlders frosted with myriad lichens; woods, spicy and sheltered with firs, soft under foot with unnumbered mosses and mats of Linnæa, and rich in all sorts of forest growths of bush and shrub and low flowering things: all this seemed enough. We went to sleep, as I say content, but not expectant of more than we had had. We heard no sound in the night. We made no haste in the morning.
With the delicious leisureliness which wraps solitary people in the warm, autumn mountain weather, we set ourselves to beginning the day, and by chance looked out of our window.
Like children at sight of a merry juggler’s show, we first shouted with delight, then drew in long, silent breaths, with bewilderment too like awe to find easy shape in speech. O whence! O who! How had their feet passed by so noiselessly? Who had touched with this enchantment every leaf of every tree which stood within our sight? Every maple-tree blazed at top with tint of scarlet or cherry or orange or pale Every ash-tree had turned from green to dark purple or 192 to pale straw-color. Every birch-tree shimmered and quivered in the sun, as if gold-pieces were strung along its branches: basswoods were flecked with white; beeches were brown and yellow, poplars were marked and spotted with vermilion; sumachs had become ladders, and bars, and fringes of fire; not a single tree was left of solid, dark green, except the pines and the larches and the firs; and they also seemed to have shared in the transformation, looking darker and greener than ever, as a setting for these masses of flashing Single trees in fields, near and far, looked like great hewn jewels; with light behind them, the tint flickered and waved as it does in transparent stones held up to the sun. When the wind shook them, it was like nothing but the tremulousness of distant seas burning under sunset. The same trees, filling in by tens of thousands in spaces of the forests, looked not like any thing which we know and name as gem, but as one could fancy mid-air spaces might be and look in some supernatural realm whence the souls of ruby and amethyst and topaz come and go, taking for a little while the dusty shapes of small stones on earth.
All this in this one night! To north, to south, to east, to west, it was the same. Miles away, at the very feet of the farthest green mountains, shone the glory; within our hands’ reach, at neighbors’ gates, stood the stately splendor.
With reverent eyes we went close into territory after territory; coming nearer, we found that the scarlet or the claret or the crimson or the orange, which we had seen from the distance as one pure, uniform tint, was no longer scarlet or claret or crimson or orange, but all of these, and more than all of these, shading up and down and into each other by gradations indistinguishably fine and beyond all counting; alternating and interrupting each other, in single leaves or in clusters on boughs, with an infinity of change and combination almost like caprice or frolic.
I have seen our Western prairies in their June 193 flowering; I have seen also the mosaic fields of blossoms in the Ampezzo Pass, at which one cannot so much as look without shaded eyes, and from which Titian learnt color: I have seen old altar fronts on which generations and centuries of kings have lavished jewels, till they are so thick set that not one more dot can be added: but I have never seen such flaming, shading, shaping, changing, lavishing, rioting of color as in this death of the autumn leaves on these Bethlehem hills.
Every day we said, “This will be the last;” and it was the last bearing away with it its own tint of glory never to return. But the next day was as beautiful, sometimes we thought more beautiful, except that the brilliance of the long royal line before it had dulled our sense. Bright days dazzled us and made us leap in their sun. Gray days surprised us, revealing new tints and more gorgeous heats in the colors; we had unthinkingly believed that sunshine helped instead of hindering. In this was a lesson. Also in the sudden discovering, hour by hour, tiny hidden leaves of unnoted things, under foot in fields, tucked away in hedges, lying low even in edge of dusty roads, but bright and burnished and splendid as any one of those loftiest in air. Strawberry leaves dappled with claret spots, or winy red with rims of yellow; raspberry and blackberry shoots as brilliant as maples; the odd little shovel-shaped sorrel leaves a deep, clear cherry just pricked with orange; patient old “hardback” sticking to its heavy plumes of seed through thick and thin of wind, its pretty oval leaves all tinted with delicate browns and yellows and pinks blended; “fireweed” by thickets in desolate places, six feet tall, and no two of its sharp, slender, spike-shaped leaves of a tint, some mottled, some yellow, some scarlet, some green;—all these we found and more, whose colors I cannot define, and whose names, more shame to me, I do not know. And so the days of the miracle play went on, to seven, to ten, to fourteen. There were few to see it; but even the busy and usually unobservant farming people took 194 note of it. “Never’n all my days did I see such a sight ’s ’tis here naow,” said one man, driving his oxen off to the right of the road to make room for me with the best part of a maple-tree on my shoulder. And, “Hev yew ben daown on the Wing Road?” said another.
“No,” said I; “are the leaves very fine there?”
“Wall, I jest wish you’d go ’n’ see! I was a thinkin’ abaout yew only last night, ’n’ I sez to my wife, ’s we wus drivin’ along ther, sez I, ‘Naow them folks that’s allers a gittin’ these ’ere leaves ’d better come daown this road.’”
And another, a good old deacon, in pathetic mixture of piety and poetry: “Wall, I’ve lived here on this Bethl’em Street all my born days, ’n’ I never see no sich a color to these ’ere woods afore. I guess the Lord knows abaout ’s well haow to fix this world o’ hisin ’s any on ’em do thet’s allers a tryin’ to make aout haow he might ha’ done it.”
There is no doubt that many years will come and go before Bethlehem hills will see such sights again. All her people agree in saying that they never saw such before; and I myself, during fifteen autumns of such mountain living and rambling as only a passion for them can inspire have never seen any thing like it. As I write, the air is full of whirling leaves, brown and yellow and red. The show is over. The winds like noisy carpenters, are taking down the scenery. They are capricious and lawless workmen, doing nothing for a day or two, and then scurrying about madly by night to make up for lost time. Soon the naked wood of the stripped trees will be all that we shall see to remind us of last week’s pomp and spectacle. But the thing next in beauty to a tree in full leaf is a tree bare; its every exquisiteness of shape revealed, and its hold on the sky seeming so unspeakably assured; and, more than the beauty of shape and the outlining on sky, the solemn grace of prophecy and promise which every slender twig bears and reveals in its tiny gray buds.195
Last night, as if in final symphony to the play and grand prelude of welcome to the conquering winter which draws near, the color spirits took possession of the sky, and for three hours shook its very folds with the noiseless cadence of their motions. There they all were, the green, the pink, the fiery red, which we had been daring to touch and pick in leaves off stems, now floating and dancing in disembodied ecstasy over our heads, wrapped and twined in very light of very light, as in celestial garments. Fixed stars seemed reeling in their embraces; the whole firmament seemed to furl and sway and undulate, as if it might presently be borne off like a captured banner in their passing. From the zenith to the eastern and western and northern horizons, not one spot was dark. If there had been snow on the ground, it would have been lit to redness as by fire. The village looked on in solemn silence; bareheaded men and women stood almost in awe at every threshold and gate. This also was such sight as had never before been seen from their doors. The oldest man here does not remember such an aurora. It is hard to believe that Lapland itself ever saw one more weird, more beautiful.
Next morning white frost and a clear, sparkling air, the first of the autumn; the very street seemed alive with quickening sense of its stimulus. There was separate delight in each footfall; it felt like a wing stroke.
“Guess it’s cleared off naow, the right way,” called out one old man to another, as they passed on the road.
“Wall, yes. I call this abaout ’s pooty a day ’s ye ever see fur enny kind o’ bizness,” replied his friend.
I did not smile at the phrase of his speech. Our hearts were in unison; and he was better off than I, for his homely simplicity had found words where I had been dumb!
Original publication, under the name “Miracle Play”: Atlantic Monthly, vol. 26, December 1870.
scarlet or cherry or orange or pale yellow.
final . invisible
masses of flashing color.
final . invisible
It is worth staying or coming to see. There is nothing like it in cities; it should not have name in common with that black, blustering, dripping-from-eaves, knee-deep-in-slosh misery, which is all that New York or Boston associates with the word “winter.”
It began a month ago, as gently and cautiously as if Nature were trying experiment, and did not know how the earth could bear it: first, snow on the distant mountains, to show us of what color it would be; glistening white like crystal, at noon; solid white like white rock, if the day grew cloudy; and deep pink at sunset, like pink topaz, or conch-shell pearls, or cinnamon roses; our eyes could not grow wonted to the splendor. Then came fine soft showers, a few moments long, sifting lustreless silver on every grass-blade and tree-twig; in an hour or two no trace was left, on the fields or by the roadside; but going into the woods, one found fringes and patches of it on fallen logs, in hollows, and laps of mosses. It is sad to think how few people have heart (or chance) to go into the woods after early snows begin. The hush of them is sweeter than their sound in summer; there are just as many colors, and all new; and as for shape, the first light outlining of snow is an almost miraculous revelation of infinitesimal points, curves, peaks, jags, wreathings, and intertwinings of all things that grow. There is not a dark corner from beginning to end of the wood; there is not a single unillumined moss stem; no, not one, in great spaces where moss and Linnæa, and partridge-berry vines are so 197 inextricably tangled, that lifting up any all the rest come with it, in mats two feet wide; no man could count the fallen beech and maple leaves in even so little room of ground as he might in five minutes tread full of steps; but every one of the leaves holds its own diamond drop of water, or carven crystal of snow: they are curled into millions of shapes; an artist might come and draw from them alone, until next year interrupted him. “O, what is that?” said my friend yesterday, as I held up to her a scrolled cornucopia of amber brown, with a twisted stem two inches long. It looked like a fantastic goblet, cut out of something finer than wood, more shining than glass, and dyed as silk can be dyed. Over and round the rim, there stayed, solid and still, what might have been frozen foam of the last toast drank. It was only a huge beech leaf; it had rolled itself up as it fell, and poised in a cleft of its own tree’s root, so as to catch in open mouth all the snow it could hold.
The hardier ferns are as green as in summer; all the mosses are greener; and the lichens are but just beginning to show what scarlets and yellows they mix; and low-lying leaves, cornels, tiarellas, and a myriad more, are tinted wondrously with claret and purple and pink; gay, almost, as were the maple and ash leaves which made the upper air so brilliant a month ago. Only the firs and spruces seem unchanged; perhaps their dark glossiness is a little deepened; but they do not take much note of these sprinkling snows; they bide their time of beauty, which will be the first hour of storm; then, moment by moment, they will be transformed into a dazzling Gothic architecture, the like of which is not to be found on the earth, unless perchance there may be arctic cathedrals built of ice in open polar fields, where no men go to worship.
The light snows gently went and came, until we grew aware of their promise and impatient of their delay. Had it been her first snowing, Nature could not better have won us to be ready for her spectacle. She was 198 honest too; for there were days of sleet; the windows froze down, and the roads were icy and horrible.
In these days a bustle of preparation was to be heard and seen in the village. Men who had for weeks spent most of their time in a miserable sort of waking trance, on tilted chairs around the stove of the village “store,” were to be seen hard at work “banking up” their houses. The heaping and boarding of these flowerless flower-beds of earth around the lower stories of country houses is sensible, perhaps, but not artistic. The German peasantry keep out cold by a more picturesque method, piling their fire-wood compactly round and round their houses, leaving small loopholes at windows, till, finally, the whole structure is a combination of castle and log-cabin, by no means ugly to see.
In the days too, potatoes, if accurately quoted, in market phrase, might have been said to be “lively;” for they were being shovelled and tumbled by bushels into cellar windows all along the street.
The blacksmith’s anvil had no rest from morning till late at night. His great red fire glared out like an angry watchful eye long after dark; much I fear the poor country horses fared ill in his numb and weary hands.
Builders’ hammers, too, rang out more vigorously than ever. There are eleven new houses going up in this little town. Next summer’s hospitality will have open doors enough, and nobody will turn away, as scores have done this year, for want of room.
In these days also came Elder MacNaughton the Baptist, crying “Prepare ye the way of the Lord;” and the Baptists prepared it after a bitter fashion; laying violent hands on a little meadow brook, and damming it up, till it made of itself a muddy pool, some six feet square. Down to this pool, on a Sunday noon, came six young women, one with her lover, to be baptized in the icy water; also there was “that sacred being,” as good George MacDonald says, “a maid-child.” The village people came in silent, solemn groups to look on; some standing closely in rows 199 along the edge of the stream, others sitting and standing a few rods off on top of the high sloping bank. We felt almost as if we had come upon some gathering of old Covenanters, under the gray sky of a Scottish winter; the bare frozen fields, the black fir woods, the circling mountains, the rough rocks, the uncovered heads and awed faces, the low minor cadences of the psalm, and more than all the unutterable silences in intervals of the service,—all made up a scene which we shall not forget, and which will make that little meadow brook sing less merrily in our ears for many a summer to come.
But the days went on; and we being strangers in the land, having neither houses to build or bank, nor horses to be rough-shod, nor faith in Elder MacNaughton’s preaching, grew almost weary of waiting for sight of grand, full winter.
Already the far-away Green Mountains were white, and their distant slopes seemed to lift and lie level along the horizon, as one could fancy icefields lying white and high among blue icebergs. Mounts Washington, Jefferson, and Adams were a snowy wall to the east; and glistening in the sun to the south lay the Franconias, gentle and gracious still under all their snows, as in summer’s green; every thing far and near, great and small, was silvered, or tufted, or mounded with snow. But not one smallest outline was lost or altered; we could still see on Strawberry Hill the maple branch on which the yellow-hammers had their nest; each seed-plume of golden-rods which we had spared in the lanes stood upright, and only more beautiful for being frosted over; stone walls and fences stretched out plainer than ever, being braided of black and white; and wheels still rattled in frozen ruts half filled and barely hid by snow. This was not winter. We waited for more.
At last it came, as I almost think it loves best to come, in the night; soft, complete, shining; small trace now of any man’s landmark, by wall or fence; no color but white and no shape but snow, to any shrub or tree or wood; looking out, we perceived that no man could 200 any more tell us of Labrador, or Greenland: they cannot be more than the whole of winter; the whole of winter lay between the horizon and our doorstep. For a little +there was not even road; if we had had our way, no human being should have taken step to make footprint between that sunrise and sunset; nor should there have been sound, save the slide of drifts from pine boughs in the forest, and the whir of little snow-birds’ wings. But we discovered that it is not possible to look out on such a night’s snow so early that it shall not be found printed here and there with the tiny star-shaped impress of feet so light that they barely jarred the crystals; also that the loud shouts of merry boys are no more discordant in such morning’s air than the gentle noises snow-birds make when they fly.
In a few hours the village surveying and road-making were over, and work began and went on. Since then there has been no surprise, no change; except that every day the mountains have some tint of purple, or blue, or gray, or red, which they have not had before, and the great dome of sky looks higher and higher. After living for months on such a plateau as this, from which half the sky there is can be seen at once, it will seem like groping blindfolded to walk about city streets and see sky only by strips, through chinks; or more, perhaps, as if the great celestial umbrella had been suddenly shut down on our heads, and we were darkly fumbling among the wires and bones.
Each day as we walk up and down the soft roads, scattering the feathery flakes with our feet, craunching a few now and then, or rolling them up into balls and tossing them aimlessly, the good people of the village stare at us with mingled amazement and pity. We know they look upon us compassionately, thinking in their secret hearts that we must be banished by some sin or misfortune into this wintry exile. But we smile as we pass them, and say under our breath, “Yes, pity us; we are glad of your pity; we need it; for we must go away next week!”
Original publication, under the name “Winter in New Hampshire”: Atlantic Monthly, vol. 27, January 1871.
It is the warmest spot I have found to-day; a high wall of soft pines and willow birches breaks the force of the wind on two sides, and the noon sunlight lies with the glow of a fire on the brown crisp grass. The blackberry vines, which this year have brighter colors than the maple-trees, flame out all over the yard in fantastic tangles and wreaths of red, and the downy films of the St. John’s wort and thistle seeds are flying about in the air. Half an hour ago an express train went by, on the river bank, many feet below, and the noise seemed almost unpardonable so near the graves. Since then not a sound has broken the stillness, and the fleecy clouds have seemed to come down closer and closer until they look like thin veils around bending faces.
Do they take note, now and then, of their graves, I wonder, the old worthies and unworthies who have passed on? The Mrs. Jemima Tute by whose grave I am sitting might well remember to come back to this hillside sometimes, for she went through terrible days here. Only a few rods off stood Bridgman’s fort, from which she and her seven children were carried into captivity by the St. Francis Indians in the summer of 1755. She was then Mrs. Howe. On the 27th of July,—how well she must still recollect the day,—she and two other women—Mrs. Eunice Gaffield and Mrs. Submit Grout—were left alone with their children in fort, while their husbands went to hoe corn in the meadow. No doubt the day seemed long; but when 202 twilight set in and their husbands did not come home their terror grew great. They crowded around the door of the fort anxiously listening to the faintest sounds. At length came the trampling of horses’ feet, and voices; the excited women never stopping to make sure that they were the voices of friends, hastily threw open the door, when, in the language of the quaint old Bunker Gay, who wrote out the story in 1809, “Lo, to their inexpressible disappointment and surprise, instead of their husbands, in rushed a number of hideous Indians, to whom they and their tender offspring became an easy prey.”
Their husbands, on their way home, had been surprised by this same party of Indians. Grout escaped unhurt; Gaffield was drowned in attempting to swim the river, and the unlucky Howe, having had his thigh broken by a fall, fell from his horse, was scalped and left for dead. He lived, however, till the next morning, and was found by a party of men from Fort Hinsdale. His body had been thrust through by a spear, and a hatchet had been left sticking in his head, but he knew his friends, spoke, and did not die till after he was carried into the fort.
Mrs. Howe’s experiences during her year of captivity are told with simplicity and minuteness in a narrative by Bunker Gay, in Bingham’s “American Preceptor” for the year 1809. She is also mentioned in the “Essay on the life of the Honorable Major General Putnam,” written in 1788 by David Humphreys, one of General Washington’s aids, and minister at Madrid.
Major Putnam met Mrs. Howe at the home of General Schuyler, who had ransomed her from the French officer to whom she had been sold by her Indian master. By General Schuyler’s aid, she recovered five of her children and returned to the colonies under Major Putnam’s escort. She must have been a woman of uncommon beauty and charm; and her experiences as a captive were in consequence rendered much more distressing. Major Putnam himself seems not to have 203 escaped wholly from the power of her beauty. Humphreys says, “She was still young and handsome, though she had daughters of marriageable age. Distress, which had taken somewhat from the original redundancy of her bloom and added a softening paleness to her cheeks, rendered her appearance the more engaging. Her face, which seemed formed for the assemblage of dimples and smiles, was clouded by care.” The grass is netting its meshes and roots more and more closely round the base of the old slate stone at her grave, and I had to separate it with my fingers and tear it away before I could copy the last lines of the epitaph:
“Mrs. Jemima Tute,
Successively relict of Messrs. Wm. Phipps, Caleb Howe and Amos Tute.
The two first were killed by the Indians:
Phipps, July 5, A. D. 1743;
Howe, June 27, 1755.
When Howe was killed she and her children,
Then seven in number,
Were carried into captivity.
The oldest daughter went to France,
And was married to a French Gentleman;
The youngest was torn from her Breast,
And perished with hunger.
By the aid of some benevolent Gentle’n,
And her own personal heroism,
She recovered the rest.
She had two by her last Husband,
Outlived both him and them,
And died March 7th, 1805, aged 82;
Having passed thro’ more vicissitudes.
And endured more hardships,
Than any of her .
No more can Savage Foes annoy,
Nor aught her wide-spread Fame destroy.”
Mr. Amos Tute’s grave is next to his wife’s. Its marble stone although fifteen years older than hers, looks comparatively modern, and the inscription is clear. It is strange that with the white marble ready to their 204 hands on so many hillsides, the old Vermont settlers should have put so many of their records into keeping of the short-lived slate:
“Mr. Amos Tute,
who died April 17th,
1790, in the 80th
year of his
“Were I so tall to reach the Pole
Or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul,
The mind’s the standard of the man.”
Near these two graves is that of her son Jonathan, whose epitaph certainly takes place high on the list of church-yard oddities:
“Here lies, cut down like unripe Fruit,
A son of Mr. Amos Tute
And Mrs. Jemima Tute, his wife,
Called Jonathan, of whose Frail life
The days all (how short the account),
Scarcely to fourteen years Amount.
Born on the Twelfth of May Was He,
In Seventeen Hundred Sixty-Three.
To Death he fell a helpless prey,
April the Five & Twentieth Day,
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-Seven,
Quitting this world, we trust for Heaven.
But tho’ his Spirit’s fled on High,
His body mouldering here must lie.
Behold the amazing alteration
Effected by inoculation.
The means improved his life to save,
Hurried him headlong to the grave.
Full in the bloom of youth he fell.
Alas! what human tongue can tell
The Mother’s Grief, her Anguish show,
Or paint the Father’s heavier woe,
Who now no nat’ral offspring has
His ample Fortune to possess,
To fill his Place, stand in his Stead,
Or bear his name when he is dead.
So God ordain’d. His ways are Just.
The empires crumble into dust,
Life and the world mere bubbles are,
Set loose to these; for Heaven prepare.”
A few rods from the graveyard, is a small red farm cottage in which live some of Mrs. Howe’s descendants. I stopped there one day to talk with them, and to see the door of Bridgman’s fort which I was told they had.
The door turned out to be not a door at all, but a single board which might or might not have been part of a door, and at any rate did not belong to Bridgman’s fort, but to another which stood a little further north, and was never picketed, but in which Mrs. Howe and her family had lived. The board was roughly hewn, many inches thick, and had a bullet hole in it. A girl, perhaps thirteen years old, was playing in the yard with her little brother. Her beauty was striking: a finely cut outline and the rarest coloring. She was a great-granddaughter of Mrs. Jemima Tute. Somehow she seemed to me a much closer and more direct link with the old story than the board, which had doubtless been often swung to and fro by her great-grandmother’s hands.
Only a few steps from the immortalized Jonathan is the grave of another:—
“The unfortunate Miranda, daughter
Of John and Ruth Bridgman,
Whose remains are here interred,
Fell a prey to the flames
That consumed her father’s house,
On ye 6th of June, 1771,
The room below flamed like a stove;
Anxious for those who slept above,
She entered on the trembling floor;
She fell, she sank, and rose no more.”
In another sunny corner, lie side by side the three wives of Mr. Abijah Rogers. The first died in 1784. Her tombstone bears the following epitaph:—
“Look down on me: i slumber here;
The grave’s become my bed;
And think on death that’s always near,
For life may quickly fade.”
Five years later, the unlucky Mr. Rogers buried another wife in friendly neighborhood to the first, and avoided all appearance of partiality by putting on her tombstone precisely the same stanza, line for line, letter for letter, except that the personal pronoun in the first line is represented by a capital, but this was probably due to the progress of education in the country, and not to any unhandsome distinction in Mr. Rogers’s mind. In 1798, the again bereaved widower was called to put up a third stone at the third wife’s grave, and this time the village muse (or his own) took a new flight, as below:—
“Reader, behold, and shed a tear;
Think on the dust that slumbers here;
And when you read the fate of me,
Think on the glass that runs for thee.”
Last of all, the man died also, and appears to have been buried as far from all three of his wives as possible, and to have eschewed poetical epitaphs.
It is strange to see how some one mortuary stanza would have a run, so to speak, in a neighborhood, and be put on stone after stone, for male and female, old and young, and (we must suppose) righteous and unrighteous alike. Here is one such which occurs no less than six times in a few rods’ space:—
“Sickness sore long time I bore
Physician’s skill in vane
Till God did send death as a friend
To ease me of my pane.”
One of the most moss-grown stones in the yard, though not one of the oldest, is a double one, two arches joined by a Siamese twin arrangement, and in memory of a husband and wife. The husband died in 1789, and under his name stands this strikingly matter-of-fact statement:—207
“In health one night as heretofore,
He went to bed and rose no more;
Death lurks unseen, and who can say
He’s sure to live another day.”
The other half of the stone waited just ten years for its record of the widow’s death. A business-like view of such events must have been a family trait throughout that community, for they found nothing more tender or solemn to say of her, than—
“Death is a debt to nature due,
Which I have paid and so must you.”
By a round-about road through pine and beech woods, dark with the undergrowth of shining laurel, we wind down from the hill into the town below. We shall pass another curious burial-ground on our left. It is not enclosed; has no tombstones; and, so far as anybody knows, there have been no interments in it for thousands of years. The only traces of builders which are to be seen in it, are the marks of the teeth of beavers, who had dams in it when it was a pond. Now it is only a muck bed. The most distinguished, or, at any rate, the biggest person ever buried there, was an elephant. Two years ago, some Irish laborers dug part of him up. Even in a muck bed, among the Green Mountains, he was not any safer than he would have been in Trinity Church yard in New York; all they found of him—only forty inches of one tusk, to be sure—is on exhibition at the State Capitol, and has been mended with glue by the State Geologist.
with their children in this fort
t in “this” invisible
Than any of her cotemporaries.
The days all summe’d
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.