THE GARDEN ON THE HILL.
It was a plausible theory, and given out in a demure and confiding way by a feminine oracle, that honeysuckle cuttings should each be inserted in a potato, and so planted. As the scion had no root and needed moisture, it would be supplied by the potato. It seemed the very thing to do. The wonder was that so simple an expedient had not been suggested before. That theory was honestly tested, and it has since been laid on the top shelf with a great many other feminine theories about floriculture. Twenty honeysuckle scions were each planted with one end in an enormous red potato. Never did one of those honeysuckles grow; but there sprang up such a growth of potatoes as never had been seen on the hill. They were under the doorstep, under the foundation of the house; they shot up everywhere. Was that the last of the misadventure? By no manner of means. In the very porch of the church that daughter of Eve inquired slily, "How are your honeysuckles?" And then she glided in as if she had done nothing for which she needed forgiveness.
Certain grafting experiments came out a shade better. But every graft put in on the south side of a tree died, while those on the north side nearly all lived. These were protected by some degree of shade, while the hot sun melted the wax on the south side, which ran down in liquid streams of resin and poisoned the bark around the cleft. All this might have been known in advance. But a little modic.u.m of knowledge learned by costly experience will stick to one through life, while that which costs nothing is rarely laid up as worth having. It ought to be known, also, that there is no better plan of grafting a tree than that which our ancestors followed a hundred years ago, when, with a little moist clay and top-tow, every scion inserted lived. Then the cider mill was an orthodox inst.i.tution in every neighborhood. It is not worth your while to dissent from that proposition, when you have probably played truant from a summer school to ride around on the sweep of a cider mill, and suck the new cider through a straw, being stung the meanwhile occasionally by a "yellow-jacket." Even now a cider mill by the roadside, with the sour pomace scattered about, is a humanizing inst.i.tution. It will send you back to the old orchard, the great branching elm, and the wide-spreading roof slanting down in the rear, quicker than any other sign or symbol to be found along the dusty way of middle life. For one hour's ride on that sweep, and a nibble at the spice-apples sliding down the hopper, one might still be consoled for the dreadful frown of the school mistress, and for that feminine refinement on purgatorial cruelty which compelled the truant to stand for an hour on one leg, and to hold out a bible at arm's length in his dexter hand. An acidulated school mistress, who had been losing her sweetness for forty years, never was a desirable object to meet, after having tasted the sweets on a summer day at a cider mill. The hornets were well enough in their way, but the sting of that school mistress was not.
Note, too, that this grafting process reaches over beyond your apple trees. The best races, or sub-divisions of people, come of the best stocks which are continually grafted on. Your blue blood is mixed with more not so blue, or the stock runs out. Down at the root of those apple trees yonder you may find traces of the woolly aphis. It is a sign that the const.i.tution of such trees has been weakened. Digging down you remove the aphis, put fresh soil around the tree, sc.r.a.pe the rusty trunk, cut off the top, and put in two or three grafts from a stock that has vitality; and very soon this rejuvenated tree, bending under its weight of fruit in early Autumn, is something of which no amateur horticulturist need be ashamed. A thoroughbred people will impress language, law, and custom, as none other can upon the world. It is not isolation which secures this result, but the taking of many stocks upon the original trunk. If pulmonary New England is to be physically resuscitated, it will not come of boasting of revolutionary sires, but rather because Germans, Irish, Danes and Swedes are thronging all the avenues of her busy life.
The transition from grafting to budding is natural enough. Those twenty white stakes stand as so many monuments of another horticultural disaster. On a September day, twenty buds, so rare that the original stock could not be bought at any price, had been deftly slipped into as many "suckers," which had come out from the roots of as many rose bushes. The next Spring they were set and staked, and each was about as precious as the right eye of any amateur horticulturist. The small buds had developed into branches a foot long; great double peerless roses had been hanging pendent from the original stocks--roses with regal names and t.i.tles. There would have been twenty glorified specimens of floriculture to-day, but for that foreign gardener who had been "educated in the best schools in Europe," who knew everything, and could not be told anything. Roses must be cut in to make new wood. Before night he had clipped those twenty standards each below the bud, and had taken himself off with his diabolical shears, his insufferable conceit, and his rustic innocence. He never came back to look at the work of his hands, nor to hear the wish (mildly expressed) that a pair of shears might be invented which would shorten the stature of that gardener at least a foot. There was a special aggravation of the case, because we had been nursing a theory for years, that by splitting two rose-germs of different kinds, and putting the odd halves together, if growth could then be induced, there would be a hybrid rose--either the color of the one would be distinct on one side, and the other on the opposite side, or the rose would be mottled, having red and white spots on each leaf. This Siamese bud had started finely. Bad luck to the gardener's shears which had abbreviated that experiment and enveloped the vexed question again in darkness. But here is a bed of mottled pinks, and these could have all been the result of crosses. It may be that the humming birds, going from one blossom to another, have mixed the pollen, or some hidden law may be active which cannot be traced. Note, too, that besides this promiscuous fleck of red and white, in not a few instances a single flower will have the red on one-half and the white on the other. The florists call this sporting. The same cla.s.s of facts may be observed in the double petunias, all of which are hybrids, or nearly so--a purple, white, and red leaf being found in a single flower. There are apples, too (or there were twenty years ago), one-half of which were sour and the other half sweet. The qualities were not interblended, and even the colors were separate.
It was a pretty conceit, and mollifying withal, that a feminine florist connected with pansies: "When you go past them they will turn their heads toward you, greeting you so lovingly." That little myth might be strung on the same string with the b.u.t.tercup, which only reflects its golden hue upon the chins of those who love June b.u.t.ter.
That alfalfa experiment is only admitted by special grace under the head of floriculture, although the lucerne has no lack of handsome blossoms. A little seed was sprinkled on the ground after the spring rains and forgotten. When the winter rains came again, that alfalfa reached out for both the zenith and nadir. Three times a year it is cut to keep it from falling down. The details are suppressed here, with only an intimation that they are sufficient for several agricultural addresses. If that man is a benefactor who has made two blades of gra.s.s grow in the place of one, what is he who has made alfalfa shoot up at the rate of seven tons to the acre, in the place of miserable sorrel-top? But there was a discount upon that experiment. The alfalfa drew to it all the gophers in the neighborhood. They mined and countermined, until the whole area had been honeycombed. They multiplied by scores and hundreds. These rodents drew together all the vagrant cats in the neighborhood, which made this corner of the garden a common hunting ground. Here upon this small area was a crop of alfalfa, a crop of gophers--which no man has numbered to this day--and a crop of cats, as fiercely predatory and as unrelenting in a skirmish as were ever put in battle array. But somehow this experiment has not been satisfactory. It has branched out in too many ways. Two empty arnica bottles suggest the muscular strains which came from moderating those cats with an occasional volley of rocks. And at this writing, half a dozen felines are on the fence looking solemnly down at the sapping and mining which is going on below.
There are no birds in this region which domesticate so readily as the linnets, and which improve more on an intimate acquaintance. They are not so obstreperous as the wren, nor so shy as the lark and the robin. The latter is a migratory bird, coming down to this lat.i.tude only in the Winter, and going north for a nesting in the Spring. A single robin has lived in the garden all Winter, becoming nearly as tame as a chicken, following the man with the spading-fork, and snapping up the worms in a sharp compet.i.tion with his cousin, the brown thrush. The former, in place of any song, has a lonesome and fugitive call, as though waiting for his mate. He is probably a bachelor, who has not yet set up an establishment of his own. A little girl, having gravely considered the case, suggests that he ought to send a letter inviting a mate to come. O, my little friend! oral communication is much more interesting; at least, it was so in our time. Neither was it considered cowardice if the heart came up into the throat.
The linnets are model birds in their domestic life. A pair built a nest last year under the porch, and, having brought up one family of four and dismissed them, the pair furbished up the nest again and brought up a family of four more the same season. They have held secret conferences over the nest recently, and it evidently falls in with their views of domestic economy to use it again. It is possible that they appreciated a little device which we had to adopt for their safety. As the nest was at the extremity of a festoon of vines, there was nothing to hinder the house-cat from going up and feasting on callow birds. An odd lot of trout hooks, fastened to the lower vines, operated as a powerful non-conductor.
Some years ago, a pair of linnets having made their nest in the porch of another house, everything went well until the young had just appeared; then the mother disappeared one night, and the displaced vines in the morning told the whole story. Four orphan birds appealed to the sympathies of the young folk. The nest was taken into the house, the birds carefully covered with cotton, and every effort was made to save them. They would eat nothing, and, as a last resort, the nest was replaced in the vines. The father came back soon, talked with his children, brooded them, fed them day after day, brought them up to maturity, and turned out as prosperous a family of young linnets as there was in that neighborhood. Mr. Linnet can have the most positive certificate of rare domestic virtues. There is the slight drawback that he paints, does all the singing, and is rather vain; while Mrs. Linnet is a plain, una.s.suming bird, always clad in gray, and is not up in music. All through the realm of ornithology the male bird has the brightest colors and does the singing. But a.n.a.logy is all at fault when you come to men and women. Who puts on all the bright colors here, paints, and carols upon the topmost bough of the domestic tree? By what law has this order been reversed? And yet the sum of your political economy is, that a woman who can dress more, use pigments more cunningly, and talk faster, and sing better than a man, shall not vote! Is that the way to set up your ideal republic?
One may learn secrets of ornithology in the garden which the books will not yield up. That boy coming up the rear garden walk, who has swung himself into a pear tree to look into the nest of a finch, has done the same thing consecutively on a dozen mornings. He will be able to tell just how many days are required for incubation, and how many days intervene before the birds are full-fledged. I should have had more hope for him as a future ornithologist, had not the young heathen asked for the eggs to put upon his string. There is not such a great difference, after all, between an Apache with a string of scalps at his belt, and a school boy with his string of birds' eggs. If it were not for that infernal cruelty which has been inbred by false teaching, or no teaching, our relations with all the lower forms of life would be intimate and confidential, instead of suspicious and oftentimes revolting. One can match the worst specimens of cannibalism by pointing out strings of larks hung up by their bills any day in the market. I know of no cannibal who ever became ferocious enough to eat singing birds, or to find pleasure in killing them.
There are two or three notes in the song of the lark which are not surpa.s.sed in sweetness by any of the oriole or finch family. If one will take a dash into the country some bright morning, on horseback, and note how this joyous bird goes before him, alighting on the fence and calling down a benediction from the heavens, either he will come back filled with gladness, or his liver trouble has got the best of him. All the song birds of much note in this State may be a.s.signed to the three families of thrushes, orioles and finches. In the first of these we have the robin; in the second, the lark; and in the third, the linnet. The sub-families will reach nearly a hundred, and there is not one of them which will not pay in songs and in the destruction of insects for all the mischief he does. Now, a bird that pays his bills in advance, has a right to protection. Observe, too, how soon they recognize any attempt to establish friendly relations with them. Last year a finch had her feet entangled by a string with which she had lined her nest. A little help rendered to set her free, made her an intimate friend, and a shallow pan of water in the gra.s.s drew daily dividends of fresh songs. A box with a few holes in it, set on a post, will not remain empty a year; either the blue-birds or the martins will take possession of it.
A garden ought to be planned as much for the birds as for lawns and flowers. The hedges will afford hiding-places for timid birds, and shade on hot days. The tall trees will furnish perches when they want to sing; and a well-fed bird, that has no family trouble on hand, wants to sing nearly all his leisure time. As for the cherries and small fruits, the birds are only gentle communists. If we cannot tolerate a division made with all the inspiration of song, and which leaves us at least one side of the cherry, how are we to tolerate that division predicted by some of the labor prophets, if made with the music of paving-stones and much fragile crockery?
One cannot go far into the woods in any direction without observing what a protest all the birds utter at first. There are harsh screams, sharp notes of warning, and general scolding. Now, every bird has a great deal of curiosity to take a look at strangers. For a time they flit about in the tall tree-tops, and afterward begin to hop down to lower limbs, and, gradually descending, come to the ground, or on to low bushes. By remaining quiet an hour or two, a dozen or more will circle around within a few feet, turning their heads on one side occasionally, and quizzing in a saucy, merry way. In a little while one may be on intimate terms with the very birds which protested so loudly at his coming. They will tell him a great many secrets. The leaves of his book on ornithology may be a quarter of a mile square, but what can not be read on one day may be read on some other. Even an owl burrowing with a ground-squirrel, and both agreeing very well as tenants in common with a rattlesnake, may suggest questions of affinity and community which it might be inconvenient to answer at once. If you prefer to have some readings in a book of nature, you can turn down a leaf and go back the next day with the certainty that no one has lugged off the volume. And if your finger-mark is a tree 250 feet high, there will be no great difficulty in finding the place.
But a garden of a single acre can only be at most, a diamond edition of nature. A great deal must be left out. The owl, as a singing-bird, is not wanted; and, although tadpoles may be raised in the little fish-pond, it is not expected that the hippopotamus will come there to wallow. The birds must of necessity be few and select. If the lark sometimes sings at sunrise on the lower fence, and the thrush and the linnet bid you good morning out of the nearest tree-tops, you will not fail to respond, unless on that particular morning when you especially need an extract of dandelion; and that will generally happen when the golden blossoms can be found along the way-side. It might be well, also, to leave a little nook for sage and worm-wood. They are not only handsome plants in their way, but the average wisdom of any grandmother will unfold their remedial properties.
There are seven well-defined species of humming-birds to be found in this State, and two or three more not described, except in the unpublished notes of Grayson. None of these birds are singers; the best they can do is to make a noise like the turning of a small ratchet-wheel. But somehow, this ungenial, obstreperous little bird, darting in a saucy way close to one's ears, and then, balancing over a flower, never ceases to excite interest. He might have dropped out of Paradise, if it were not for his temper, which lacks any heavenly quality, and for his song, which would soon raise a mutiny above or below. He is a half unreal bird; and we do not know what soul in a transition state may be lodged in his little body. There are a great many souls small enough to occupy it. Now, the house-cat had been taught, after a long time, to respect birds, and that to look longingly at a humming-bird was something akin to sacrilege. But original sin, or instinct, was always ready to break out at the sight of a humming-bird. One evening she trotted down the garden walk with head up and a diminutive bird in her mouth. It took a lively turn of three times or more around that acre lot to overhaul that cat; nor was it done until the pursuer was thoroughly red in the face and blown, having just strength enough left to gripe her by the throat and make her let go. It was the poorest job of bird-philanthropy ever done in that garden. There was nothing to reward a merciful man but a humming miller, of just the size and finish, from bill to wings, of a humming-bird, but only an ugly bug as to his posterior half--a creature with his head and wings over in the realms of ornithology, and the rest of his ugly body still in the field of entomology. The quality of mercy is strained which undertakes to protect any such half-formed work of creation. When, therefore, a few evenings afterward, a shrike, or butcher-bird, came into the garden, devoured half a dozen of these bogus humming-birds, and hung up as many more on the thorns of a honey-locust, that circ.u.mstance suggested no doubt about the eternal fitness of things.
The quail is easily domesticated in any garden, and, if protected, will become as tame as the chickens. I have more than once seen them run where a hen was scratching, and pick up whatever could be found. Some years ago, while mowing the gra.s.s around the edges of another garden, a nest was discovered containing a dozen hen's eggs and seventeen quail's eggs. The village savants never did fairly settle the questions raised about that nest. Did the hen have the prior right, first choosing the place and making the nest? or did the quail pre-empt, and was the hen an unlawful squatter? Did they lay on alternate days, or concurrently as to time? And how did the eggs get that arrangement by which all the crevices were filled with the smaller ones? And which did the incubating? The quail could not cover the nest. But nearly all the eggs of both sorts were ultimately hatched. It had been settled before that time, by our system of patriarchial jurisprudence, that the issue followed the condition of the mother. The chicks respected that principle, since so rudely questioned, and each followed its mother, so that substantial justice was done, and the heavens did not fall.
No garden is well stocked without a pair or two of toads. They will learn to distinguish your foot-steps from those of a stranger, as they come out at twilight. The toad is a philosopher, and is the most self-contained of all living things. He meditates all day in the shade, and takes his dinner promptly at twilight. That dinner may require a thousand insects. The dart of his tongue is never made amiss. If you cannot cultivate him for his beauty--and there may be a doubt on that score--you can tolerate him for his honest work. There is some cant about the ugliness of the toad that you would not respect when you have taught a pair to come out of their hiding places at your call, have given them pet names, and have seen them slay the remorseless mosquito. If you step on one after nightfall, it will be useless to objurgate. You cannot provoke him to talk back.
Consider what an advantage the toad has in another respect. He not only hibernates a part of the year, and thus saves his board-bills, but he has been known to suspend active life for a quarter of a century or more; as when, getting into a hollow tree, the orifice has been filled up, or he has been wedged in the cleft of a rock. But when restored, he resumes life with no inconvenience to his digestion. What might be gained if one only had the vitality of this batrachian! You have been overtaken by a stupidly dull era, or are disgusted with life. What an advantage to call on some friend to pack you away in ice, and to thaw you out only when the next quarter-century bell rings! Since we cannot go safely over this bridge with the batrachian, it is not well to put such a discount on his ugliness, nor is it well to be too exclamatory, if you tread on him in the twilight.
The garden is the place to test a great many pretty theories. And what if some of them fail? Is not the sum of our knowledge derived from failures, greater than all we have ever gained by successes? A feminine oracle, not content with her honeysuckle theory, had said: "You must not pull up a plant nor a vine that springs up spontaneously. Let it grow. There is luck in it." When, therefore, a melon-vine made its appearance quite in the wrong place, it was spared through the wisdom of that oracle. It went sprawling over the ground, choking more delicate plants, and rioting day by day in the warm sun and the rich loam underneath. Nearly all its blossoms fell off without fruitage. One melon took up all the life of the vine, and grew wonderfully. There had been tape-line measurements without number. When it gave out a satisfactory sound by snapping it with thumb and finger, and the nearest tendril had dried up, it was held to be fully ripe. It was very ripe. A gopher had mined under that melon, and, not content with eating out the entire pulp, had, in the very wantonness of his deviltry, tamped the sh.e.l.l full of dirt! Where was the luck in this spontaneous growth? Nor did the matter end here. Sometime thereafter the following note, written in a feminine hand, was found pinned to that sh.e.l.l: "GARDEN ON THE HILL, August 20, 187--.
"MR. B----: Dear Sir--Since you have had the benefit of my discovery of the new method of planting honeysuckles inserted in potatoes, and you have also tested my theory of the luck there is in melon-vines of spontaneous growth, it has occurred to me that you would fully appreciate my skill and attainments. Now, I expect to be a candidate for the Chair of Horticulture and Floriculture in the University. I must have strong recommendations. Will you be kind enough to furnish me a certificate in which full justice is done to my attainments? My success may hinge on that certificate. Make it as strong as you can with a good conscience.
P. S.--I forgot to tell you that if you had pinched out the eyes of the tubers in that first experiment, while you would have had less potatoes, you might not have had any more honeysuckles."
That certificate was fully prepared. If we know anything about our mother tongue, the qualifications of the applicant were fully set out. Singularly enough, she has never applied in person for the doc.u.ment.
The almond tree is worthy of a place in every garden, even if it never fruits. The pale blush of its blossoms is the herald of Spring. In the warm days of February it puts on a pink dress, and is glorified. The bees come out, lured evidently by the scent of its flowers; but they flit about in a fugitive way, as if not satisfied with what they had found. There are small resources of honey in the almond blossoms; so much might be learned from the spiteful way in which the humming-birds darted off after sounding a little with their long bills. Something like one almond came to maturity for every thousand buds which unfolded in the early Spring. Two or three hundred "paper sh.e.l.ls" clung to the tree hard by the library door, in the late Autumn. Whatever had been the fortune of other almond growers, here was a crop by an amateur. It was of no consequence that there had been a great discrepancy between flowers and fruit. Precious things are never abundant. No, by no manner of means, were these almonds to grace any Thanksgiving table. Let thanks be given for the brown sh.e.l.ls clinging to the tree, and for whatever of internal good this outwardness might suggest. And not least, for the humming-bird's nest on the end of a pendent limb, so like a warty excrescence of the tree as not to be observed by careless eyes--and for that mutual confidence when curly-headed children were lifted up, and birds and children communed face to face, chirruped, and were glad.
"What became of the almonds?" There was a case of misplaced confidence. It was well enough that the finch, the linnet, the chat and the sparrow, had plucked the cherries, sampled the plums, and had taken kindly to the mellow side of the pears. December had come. Only here and there a fugitive gross-beak flitted about--a bird with a wonderful capacity for mellow song, but silent, as if never a note had gone out of his capacious throat and chubby bill. Perhaps they could be induced to sing in midwinter if confidence could be established. Half a dozen almonds were laid on the walk, which a pair of gross-beaks "shucked" with wonderful facility. That stout, short beak is fitted for a nut eater. Half an hour afterward there were twenty gross-beaks on that almond tree; and forty minutes later, they had stored every almond in their crops, cutting away the sh.e.l.ls as deftly as one could do with a sharp knife. So tame and bold were they that one could have nearly reached them with his hand. Not a note was given in return, nothing but a twitter, as much as to say, "This is a royal dinner; there were just enough nuts to go round." And then they went off silently into the blue sky.
The first man, being historically and traditionally perfect, had a garden as his n.o.blest allotment. The farther the race drifts away from the cultivation of the soil, the nearer it gets to barbarism. The Apache is not a good horticulturist, and therefore there is no gentleness in his blood. Teach him to love and cultivate a garden, and he is no longer a savage. The best thought and the best inspiration may come to one when all the gentler ministries of his garden wait upon him--when the soul of things is concurrent with his own, and bee and almond blossom, the rose, and the smallest song-sparrow in the tree-top, are revelators and instructors.
THE HOMESTEAD BY THE SEA.
The sighing and respiration of the great sea to-day was wonderfully soothing, until there was a series of dull explosions, like the percussion of far-off gunnery. One may hear these sounds on a still midsummer day, or at midnight, when the sea is pulsing and breaking along the sh.o.r.e line. It required two hours to find out the secret. Along these chalk cliffs there are great caverns, wind and wave worn. Standing near the mouth of one of them, a "boomer" came surging along, and placed its watery seal over the mouth, driving and pressing the atmosphere before it. When the seal was broken there was an explosion like a gun seaward. The turn of the tide is frequently marked by a series of these boomers, and then there is a suggestion of a park of artillery under the cliffs, and the long roll is beaten along the sh.o.r.e. All discoveries are simple enough when once the secret has been found out. How many men walk along the edge of a discovery all their lives, and never quite enter into the promised land! Some blundering successor stumbles into the fruition of the great secret. There are men within bow-shot of prizes as magnificent as ever crowned human research; but they will go no farther. Columbus rested at the Antilles; the continent was just beyond. If you have got as far as the islands, it may be well, before you give up the search, to look at the sea-weeds and drift-wood, whether they do not come from the mainland. Having gathered and cooked the mussels, you might as well stay and eat them as to have another eat them and throw the sh.e.l.ls after you. Charles Lamb discourseth about the mussel wisely: "Traveling is not good for us; we travel so seldom. How much more dignified leisure hath a mussel, glued to his impa.s.sable rocky limit, two inches square! He hears the tide roll over him backward and forward twice a day (as the Salisbury coach goes and returns in eight and forty hours), but knows better than to take an outside place on the top of it. He is the owl of the sea, Minerva's fish, the fish of wisdom." And yet the mussel can travel, and if detached will seek out a new location, and by means of its silken beard, or byssus threads, which it can weave in a few minutes, anchor itself anew to the rock. It has two enemies: The whelk, a sort of univalve mussel wolf, which bores a hole through the sh.e.l.l about the size of a pin, and sucks the life out; then there is a species of sea-gull which, when all other resources fail, plucks off the mussels, and, rising high enough, dashes them on the rocks; from which circ.u.mstance aesop may, or may not, have invented his story of an eagle dashing a tortoise on the shining crown of a bald-headed man.
Yonder, where the surf frets the sh.o.r.e and pencils a dark line of kelp, look for the star-fish and the limpet, and for mosses in ultramarine and carmine such as no florist can match from his garden. And what is the sea but a treasure-house of palms and ferns, of corals, and of lilies which no eye hath seen, and royal highways, under whose arches there is an eternal procession of living things, and glorious mausoleums for the dead? This maritime discourse was somewhat abbreviated, because the youngster for whose benefit it had been made suddenly disappeared behind the rocks. He had begun some experiments on his own account. He had found out that the abalone which cleaves to the rocks has a wonderful suction, and the pinching of his finger between the sh.e.l.l and the rock, as in the vice of a blacksmith, extorted a wholesome yell and kept him in a grave and thoughtful frame of mind for five minutes. Anemones abound in all the rocky pools, spongy, unfolding at the top and closing quickly at the touch, the lowest form of sentient life, but knowing what is what. This youngster takes his second lesson in natural history by dropping in a mussel, when the anemone closes over it, and in a few minutes thereafter throws out an empty sh.e.l.l; but when the young rogue dropped in a stone, it was thrown out in a contemptuous way, as if the anemone had long ago understood the trick and was not to be deceived by naughty boys.
The star-fish comes in with the drift, as if he were altogether helpless; but, dull and inert as he seems, he watches tides and opportunities. Like the whelk, he loves the bivalve mollusk, but does not bore for it. There is a theory that he holds his five fingers affectionately around the clam or oyster, and then, by the aid of a sort of marine chloroform, secures an opening, when in goes one of the five fingers, and the mollusk is forced to sh.e.l.l out. There is a beautiful combination of persuasion and force. The sedative is tried first, and the pressure afterward. It is a pity that some such process could not be tried on that cla.s.s of human mollusks whose sh.e.l.ls have closed over their millions with an unrelenting grip. Some day their empty sh.e.l.ls may be cast up on the other sh.o.r.e. It might be better for them that a star-fish should insert one of his fingers before the drift period begins.
In the chalk bluff, more than forty feet from high-water mark, is the vertebrae of a whale distinctly outlined. This monarch of the seas selected his tomb with some reference to the fitness of things. The Egyptian monarchs built for themselves granite tombs; but the whale lay down on the ooze, and the infusoria of five thousand years or more built around and above him. He was grandly inurned, and lifted up out of the sea by such a force as no living or dead Pharaoh could command. In the matter of royal sepulture, it is certain that the whale had an immense advantage. But after three or four thousand years, the defunct monarchs of sea and land are mainly valuable for bone-dust, and are rather poor fertilizers at best. From the hill one may see whales gambol in the Bay of Monterey, in the early Spring months. What a great laundry establishment these fellows might set up, if they only knew how to utilize their power! At present, these columns of spray blown into the horizon are only picturesque. There is a grave suspicion that the friend, whose Mongol servant blew the spray from his mouth into the sponge to be set for bread, would have much preferred that the whale had performed that office. Years ago, one of these monsters was seen floundering about in the bay all day long, as though in great distress. The following night he drifted ash.o.r.e, dead. The great hulk had no mark of the sword-fish or the whaleman's lance. The sailors said that he was worried, teased, and finally hunted to death, by a fish called a "b.u.mmer." How strikingly human-like was the experience of the dead mammal!
There was a strange fascination about two wrecked vessels, whose timber heads could be seen above the sand. Sometimes, in a storm, they would get adrift. So weird like and mysteriously did they rise and fall on the surging sea, appearing and disappearing, thrusting their timbers out like arms imploring help, that one might fancy they were the spirits of these lost vessels coming back to protest against this broken rest. How strangely they accented the storm! When it subsided they would bring up at the old place, and the sand would bury them again. There was an odd genius in the town who claimed these wrecks by pre-emption. When his finances were low, and creditors pressed for small bills, he made his payments conditioned, as to time, on the coming of the next storm which would unbury the wrecks. Providence saved him a deal of hard shoveling, by raising the wind for him. Then he drew out copper bolts enough from the wreck to liquidate his bills, but gathered no surplus. Hath not many a mine been exhausted by indiscreet development? As long as that copper lasted, "Bob" paid his debts periodically. If he has not yet drawn his last copper bolt, he is still ent.i.tled to the financial confidence of this trading and huckstering world.
These round holes in the hard rocks are wrought deftly by the Pholas, a little bivalve, which, by means of its rasping sh.e.l.l and strong, elastic foot, keeps up the attrition, grinding away day and night until his excavation is perfect. It fits him on all sides, and he is content to live and die there. How much better is his condition than that of round men who have been trying all their lives to fit themselves into square holes, and square men who never could adjust themselves to round holes. The Pholas has found his place, and therefore may be ahead in the race. There was a famous theologian of the last century, who, sitting at his desk year after year, wrestling with problems which neither he nor any other mortal ever understood, ground the floor of his little study, by the attrition of his feet, until it was nearly worn through. His footprints are still preserved as sacred relics. Nor ought the inquiry to be pressed now whether the hole which the Pholas wrought with his foot, or the hole which the theologian ground with his foot, was the better or more permanent one. If the question is at all pertinent, it may be ripe for an answer a thousand years hence.
When the tide is out, one may find the razor-fish, so called because the sh.e.l.l resembles the handle of a razor. If laid hold of suddenly, the chances are that before he can be drawn out he will slip out of his sh.e.l.l, leaving that empty in the hand, while the "soul and essence" of him has gone down half a fathom into the sand. Yet he is not more slippery than many an individual, who, when pressed to do some magnanimous deed in behalf of the community, slips out of his sh.e.l.l, and, losing the grip, you can no more find the soul and essence of him than you can find the soul of this razor-fish, which has gone deep into the muck and sand. In either instance, the empty sh.e.l.l is only the sign of the thing wanted.
If it were not for this eternal scene-shifting, the monotony of the sea might be oppressive. But every change of the wind, and every drifting cloud across the sky, gives a new blending of color and tone. If to-morrow the south wind shall blow, or a gale come piping down from the north, the face of the deep will have been created anew, as much so, in an aesthetic view, as if it had been poured out for the first time on the surface of the globe. Is there not a perpetual series of creations on both sea and land? The waters are taken up in the clouds, and poured out again. Mountains are disintegrated, and go down to the valleys, but other mountains are lifted up out of the sea and out of the arid plains. Climbing a hill, more than four hundred feet above the surface of the water, and five miles inland from the present sh.o.r.e line, one may find thousands of marine sh.e.l.ls, many of mollusks not yet extinct as species, and read on the face of this conglomerate, as in open volume, the record of a physical creation, whether by the subsidence of the sea or the elevation of the land, as fresh, geologically, as if all this had occurred but a century ago. This world of waters creates no sense of isolation. Observe, too, that whoever has been born and bred by the sh.o.r.e will evermore look out on the sea and be glad. A sail is better than a horse, and the breaking of the waves hath more majesty and a diviner music than any organ touched by human hands. Mem.: the man who has gone over the rocks, and is filling his pockets with mussels in a furtive sort of a way, is from the interior. He wants salting. He is looking out drift wood, and will strike a match presently. Let him fancy, if he will, that his feast is fit for the G.o.ds. To-night he will probably dream that one of these wrecks, covered with barnacles and sea-weed, has rolled over, and is lying athwart his capacious diaphragm.
The Patriarch went out into the fields at eventide. Was it any the worse for him that his meditations were gilded with a touch of romance? What if he thought less of the lilies of the field, and more of the veiled lily from Nahor? Was not that human? So we go down to the seash.o.r.e as the soft twilight comes on apace, and think it no worse that the voices of lovers blend with the cadence of waters. If there is no higher inspiration for them, let Isaac speak to Rebecca. It is little to them that there is a blush in the horizon, and that a moment ago the sea was opalescent, and the mountains put on and off their royal vestments of purple.
This homestead by the sea was an accident. It was the result of a bit of facetiousness, that had a solemn termination, as it were. Riding past the court-house in Santa Cruz, nineteen years ago, when that town had not as many hundred people, the wag of a sheriff was dividing his time between crying a ranch at public sale, to close an estate, and whittling a stick. No bids for the last hour. Would the citizen on horseback halt a minute and accommodate him with a bid, just to relieve the dullness of the occasion? The last bid was raised five dollars. What did that madcap of a sheriff do but slap his hands together and declare that the estate was sold. There have been earthquakes which were inconveniently sudden, and thunder-claps from a clear sky; but such an invest.i.ture of real property had not been known in many a day. The sheriff shut up his jack-knife; the bystanders closed theirs, and they all went round the corner, as they said, to consult a barometer--a proceeding which that official never did fully explain. When one has been overtaken by a surprise, a climax, or even a joke, which has at the bottom of it such a flavor of real estate, it is best to sleep on it for one night, and take a fresh view of the situation on the following day. Does not the ideal country estate in some way enter into the sleeping or waking dreams of most sanguine men? There are to be many broad acres, parks, and fountains, orchards drooping with fruit; vineyards creeping up the hillsides; a trout stream in which "chubs" greatly abound; a capacious mansion, with hospitable doors swinging open as if by instinct on the approach of friends; barns filled with fragrant hay; thoroughbred stock, from the horse down to the dog and cat; Alderney cows, coming up at night with cream in their horns, mild-eyed and gentle, with breath as sweet as the wild clover they had eaten; gilt-edged b.u.t.ter, not handed round in pats as large as a shilling, for admiration, but set forth in solid cubes, like gold which had been honestly a.s.sayed and run into ingots; strawberries perennial, and always smothered in cream; bellflowers and pippins, ripening in the Autumn sun; scientific farming, not for profit, but just to demonstrate how it can be done; long, tranquil days, restful and full of indescribable peace, when bees go droning by, and the perfume of the orchard comes in at the open windows. That is pretty nearly an outline of your dream, with some minor variation of details thrown in; such, for instance, as a great chamber looking toward the rising sun, where the one epic poem of the nineteenth century is to be written. Are there some twinges of pain about the heart that this dream has never been quite realized? Consider for a moment that heaven, so far as it relates to this world, is for the most part an ideal conception. It is not what one has reduced to possession, but what he hopes to have. Now, one can put a great deal of heaven into the ideal country home, and not realize largely on the investment. If the strawberries cost a dollar apiece, and the favorite horse has a trick of putting his heels up toward the stars, the chickens stagger about with the gapes, and the phylloxera browns the vineyard as if a subterranean fire had been burning at the roots, these touches of realism may chasten the expectations somewhat, and at the same time serve to plant the amateur farmer more firmly on his feet. It is a pity that the world could not be enriched by the experience of the gilt-edged farmer from the city. What is most wanted is a book of failures--an honest filling in of the blanks between the ideal and real country life.
A survey of the new purchase disclosed a number of particulars; and, among others, that a dead man's pre-emption claim, when sold under the form of law, pa.s.ses a rather shadowy t.i.tle to the buyer. It was needful to become a constructive pre-emptor, and to exhort a number of impenitent squatters to early penitence and reformation. The Saxon's hunger for land is generally matched by his appet.i.te for land stealing. If two parcels of land of equal area and value be shown him, one already claimed and the other open to settlement, the chances are that this descendant of ancient land-robbers would much prefer to pounce on the land already occupied, and fight it out. If he is not reconstructed in his inmost soul, he will always be wanting his neighbor's vineyard. The new purchase met all aesthetic requirements. It was on the edge of the town, and hardly more than a mile from the sea. It had a grove in the foreground, a trout stream on either side, with a fringe of tall redwoods, a backing of mountains, and a water view comprising the whole of Monterey Bay, and as much of the ocean as the eye could reduce to constructive possession. Not a fence to mark a boundary; but the two-room shanty, with its great stone chimney on the outside, loomed up like a palace. There was a fire-place which yawned like an immense cave. An old rifle-barrel, planted in the chimney, served well enough as a crane. The opening at the top was liberally adjusted for astronomical observations, but had been slightly abridged by the nest of a pair of gray wood squirrels, which kept up a perpetual racing on the dry roof at night.
It is not probable that the primitive man had any such house to await his coming; and having his const.i.tution adjusted to a tropical climate at the outset, he had little use for a stone fire-place where the back-log lasted a week. It would furnish a curious commentary on the evolution of dwellings if one could establish the fact that the first house was built of adobes, like those which one now sees along the bluff of the Branciforte, and which have more than one quality of the perfect country house. A breastwork of earth might have been raised first, to break off tempests; afterward, it would have four sides, then perhaps a thatch of palm leaves--and the primitive adobe dwelling stood in its glory. In such a habitation the sun could not smite by day, and only the fleas could smite powerfully at night. If any learned archaeologist finds fault with this theory, let him make a better one out of adobes if he can.
It was an odd circ.u.mstance that the grove had been the chosen place for many a camp meeting, the board buildings still remaining; while on the opposite side an eccentric African had occupied for many years a hut, and led a sort of mystic life. He was skillful in compounding simples, the potency of which was greatly increased by his incantations. It was even said that he had the gift of hoo-dooing, and always kept the roughs at bay by threatening to fix his eye on them. There was a trace of orthodoxy in his methods--since, if the wicked cannot be won by love, they can sometimes be scared into decency by sending the devil after them. Here were signs of grace on one side, and diabolism on the other. But neither effected much in "Squabble Hollow," two miles beyond. It is a pity that the African had not done a little hoo-dooing up there among the pioneers, so that the reign of peace might have set in at an earlier day. It is quiet enough now, because Time, with his scythe, has cut a clean swath there.
If one has planted his own orchard, he will eat the fruit with greater satisfaction. He will have an affection for the trees which he once carried under his arm, and will trim them tenderly in the spring. Whoever ate the cherries which he bought in the market with such secret satisfaction as those which he plucked from his own trees in the early morning? If your neighbor invites you to his cherry orchard, he honors you above kings. It is doubtful if royalty ever poised itself on a rickety chair, or reached for cherries so deftly as that school girl, who read her graduating essay, with pendent blue ribbons, last month. She is not greatly changed now, except that her mouth has increased about a hundred per cent. Every tree which one sets with his own hands is better than those which the hireling and stranger have set. He establishes secret relations with it, communes with it, eats of the fruit as if the tree itself rejoiced in bestowing such a benediction. When the apples fall to the ground, in the still autumn day, it is as if they dropped from the opening heavens. Every one is the symbol of wisdom, and hath, in its malic acid, a subtile essence, which carries health to the morbid liver. And no individual is ever wise when that organ is in trouble, or, at least, he has an unhappy way of expressing his wisdom. From this sanitary point of view, it will accord with a healthy conscience if a little cider mill is set up under the wide-branching oak hard by. If you have any scruples, you need not taste of the cider, but you can smell of the pomace, and note how the bees and yellow-jackets are drawn to it for honey. The bees go in a straight line to a knot-hole in the dead top of a redwood tree. The taking up of a wild swarm, which had stored honey in another tree, was not a happy experiment. When the tree came down, there was a black, boiling ma.s.s of enraged bees. No lack of honey. But if one wishes to know what is meant by the "iron entering into the soul," let a dozen bees go under his necktie, and prod him along his back--the last one, by way of a tiger, prodding the tip of his nose, because at that very instant one must sneeze or die. How can one tell what is sweet except there be some bitterness in contrast? It was evident that old dog "Samson," who dropped his tail and yelled when the bees lit on him, was not given to much philosophical reflection; but the speed of that disconsolate cur was mightily helped on his way back to the kennel. If an invitation were now extended to him to take up another hive, he would do nothing more than wave his tail and send regrets.
That platform in the grove is maintained for the benefit of free speech, with reasonable limitations. Clerical and political orators have had their day there. In short, it is the platform of all nations, newly consecrated every summer by the rhythmic feet and gleesome voices of childhood. Then, if ever, the oak and madrono spread their branches of perpetual green over such more tenderly, as symbols of the immortal freshness of youth. Is not this succession of life from chaos eternal, and the race itself only in its infancy? Neither the woodman's axe nor the fire could take the vitality out of that redwood stump, for the saplings have sprung out of its clefts, and the old roots are sending these new spires up toward the heavens. As little does the destruction of a nation affect the genesis of the race, or its everlasting succession. The orchard is the symbol of peace, abundance, the mellowness of life. It is the sign of a gentle civilization grafted on to the wildness of nature. The wild blackberry and strawberry, which grow along the fences and hedgerows, have an aboriginal flavor. When they are domesticated they are a hundredfold better. The wild trees of the forest take to themselves new qualities when set in the open grounds. The ship built of "pasture oak" is a better craft, because the toughness of fiber of such trees was gained in the open field, where they had given shelter to ruminating cows. Was not the yew tree, which grew about the ancestral homes generations ago, chosen for the cross-bow because of its toughness and elasticity? This solitary ash by the fence is more lithe and graceful for its introduction to domestic life; and this wide-branching oak before the door, casting now its shadows aslant, made handsome obeisance to the earthquake, sweeping the ground with its lateral branches. Not a fracture of one of its elastic limbs; but that ancient stone chimney rumbled fearfully, and stood apart in moody isolation. When the dog abandons the civilized community and hears no human speech, he loses his bark. The lowest type of humanity has only a few guttural sounds. The civilized master follows the condition of his dog--that is, if he be cast on some solitary island, he gradually loses his speech. Dog and man have finally gone back to dumb nature. Why is the fruit of the ancient pear tree, standing by some deserted homestead of ante-revolutionary days, more acrid and pungent than it was a hundred years ago? It had lost a.s.sociation with human kind. If one could grasp the sweeter subtleties of Nature, he might find a gracious accord, a point of sympathetic contact, where the mellowness of the individual, the rich and generous juices of his nature, give a finer quality to the fruits of the trees which he has planted. Something may come back to him, also, in the aroma of the orchard, helping him by its fragrance to a gentler and more thoughtful life.
It accords with the folk-lore, or traditions of the "Hill," that one must not offer violence to a black cat. Now it happened that in the season of spring chickens--in the very callow time of their existence--a vagrant cat installed himself in the garden. Charcoal was grey in contrast with the depth of his blackness; and his yellow eyes were flanked by jowls indicating that he fared sumptuously. If a cat of this hue is a symbol of evil, why not induce him to move on at once? "Bridget" was questioned for a satisfactory answer. "Because you mustn't. It is bad luck to harm a black cat." And so this superst.i.tion from the heart of the African continent was respected for a time. There might be some occult influence by which the cat propagated the superst.i.tion; creating it and living, as it were, in its very atmosphere. Hoodooing possibly is not confined to Africans. It has some relation to blackness, midnight, weird and mysterious eyes. This prowling feline may have in him the spirit of mischief. A symbol of evil may sometimes be the thing itself. It is a strange custom to mourn for lost friends by wearing black. What more natural interpretation than that the wearer also is dead? Whereas the "heathen" have hit upon a better symbol, wearing white for the loss of friends, signifying that they have entered into light, that the world itself is all luminous for the living.
Now that cat, the spirit and essence of darkness, the forerunner of diabolism, was true to the symbol. What did he do but leap over a high fence every morning and take from the inclosure the tenderest of spring chickens. Then an hour afterward he would go down the garden walk for a greeting, as if he were not a knave and a hypocrite, arching his back and curving his tail beautifully, rubbing his sleek coat against one and looking up in the face as much as to say, "The only honest trades in the world are yours and mine." It is true that the business economy of the world is mainly a system of reprisals. But there ought to be a spiritual economy which should teach something better. It is evident that this cat must be converted with other than spiritual weapons. In a millennial sense shotguns, no doubt, may become "organ pipes of peace," and even now they may be used to project a sermon to a considerable distance. One by one that brood of chickens disappeared, and another was just coming off. A neighbor was consulted as to the best manner of getting around the superst.i.tion that no harm must be done to a black cat. The case was plain enough. He had a beautiful breech-loading shotgun, costing, he suggested, a hundred and twenty dollars. All that was necessary to be done in the premises was to exhort that marauder with that gun. He would show us how to use it. Then followed a drill in its use. The cartridges went in at the breech, an eye was to be squinted along the barrel--and then came the crisis. What a beautiful implement! And how wonderful the contrast with the old Queen's arm, the relic of revolutionary days stored in the garret, with its flint lock, priming wire and muzzle, into which went five fingers of powder and shot, and one of wads! That gun, the use of which was always interdicted to small boys, had been let down from the garret window many a time by a toe-string manufactured for the occasion, and the first hint which maternal government got of that sleight of hand was a report in the nearest woods, which all the heavens echoed to the old homestead. That honest revolutionary piece would not lie. It spoke the truth even if we had to suffer the consequences. The draft made on a clump of hazel bushes near by, was the serious part of the business. But it abides in the memory that no red squirrel running on a ziz-zag fence was wholly safe when that Queen's arm was pointed at him.
The breech-loader was taken down and stored in the library for an aggravated occasion. It came in a few days. The man of all work came bowling up the walk red and wrathful. "That old son of perdition has got another chicken!" Now then, his time had come. He shall be swept with the besom of destruction. Superst.i.tions go this day for nothing. A hundred and twenty dollar shotgun, silver mounted, and a patent cartridge! "Rest it across my back, 'Squire, and take good aim. Aim for his shoulder, and don't kill the chicken in his mouth."--"Did you fetch the cat?" Well, not exactly. The old superst.i.tion that day had a powerful effect. That cat dropped the chicken, though, and ran toward the gunner as if to salute him, and then leaped over a ten-feet fence and disappeared. That was not all. There were four chickens feeding in the gra.s.s beyond, every one of which was laid out cold, and a fifth was struck in the head and had the blind staggers so that it was counted in with the dead. There had been a little variance in the "besom of destruction" which operated in favor of that mysterious cat. Then there was the salutation of Bridget: "Didn't I tell you that it is bad luck to kill a black cat!" "Well, I haven't killed him by a long way. But you might go down in the back lot and gather up an ap.r.o.n full of spring chickens." That gun was returned with thanks. It was an elegant piece. But, somehow, it didn't work like the Queen's arm. The next day that cat returned as if nothing had happened, and took the regular toll of a chicken a day. For a whole year more these depredations went on at intervals, regulated by the supply of young chickens. Here was enterprise. A hundred-dollar chicken yard, constructed and arranged on "scientific principles," was just adequate for the supply of one black cat, on which no impression could be made with a breech-loader, while chickens were bought every week in the market to meet the home demand! In this extremity a new plan was evolved.
A cash premium--a new dollar from the mint--shall go for the destruction of this particular cat and all successors. Robert, the utility man, soon claimed the dollar. He had exhorted the sleek old hypocrite with a hoe-handle, and brought him to sudden repentance.
"It is bad luck to kill a black cat," said Bridget the next morning; "and you didn't kill him, neither." Well, I paid Robert a premium of a dollar, and he took him off. "Hang all superst.i.tions."
"But the black cat is down in the garden now."
There was that thieving rascal, or a duplicate, at the old business. Robert offered to show the original underground. The premium business was continued, and went into the monthly statement. No sooner was one taken off than another appeared, provided always that it was not the original vagabond. The same predatory habits, the same midnight and diabolical expression, the same decimation in the chicken yard. What did it all mean? There was some occult diabolism that could not be explained. "Didn't I tell you," says Bridget, with an air of triumph, "that you can't kill a black cat."
No, I can't, with a breech-loader. But Robert is drawing a regular premium. The black cat premium fund was exhausted. Now, state your account, my boy. "Well, I have killed five, upon honor, and have my eye upon another one." There was a suspicion that the original was still there. But the superst.i.tion vanished in the clear light of day when it was shown that number six had a little fleck of white between the four legs. But the depredations still go on, and you cannot convince the honest old house-servant that a black cat has ever been killed--and looking out into the garden just now, as that sleek black rascal lies in the gra.s.s, with a waving motion of his tail and his yellow eye fixed upon a callow brood, it is clearer than ever before that the succession of black cats is eternal. They do not come in single file, but sun themselves on the fences by the half dozen, run over the green-house, breaking panes of gla.s.s, climb up on the outside to the gable window of the barn, flit across the garden walks at twilight, conceal themselves under the low shrubbery, as if defying all efforts at dislodgement. Then there is the comment of Patrick, our neighbor's utility man: "They know the char-acter you've made with that gun."
Nor was it a mitigating circ.u.mstance that a sympathizing friend proposed to regulate the succession of cats by sending over a small half-grown terrier. If well brought up, he would keep the peace in the interest of spring chickens. He did occasionally run the black vagrants to the trees handsomely. But as an incidental diversion, he would lay out half a dozen chickens on any fine morning. Where was the gain? Cats could be exhorted with a shotgun, at least there was one experiment of that kind. But when "Towser" was exhorted with a switch, a wail went up from the Hill. It was as if the spirits of all the dogs in Christendom had united to pierce the heavens. So great a noise for so small a catastrophe! But this elementary education cannot be interrupted on account of noises. There is a Hindoo proverb that you cannot get the crook out of a dog's tail by mollifying appliances. But what was needed in that particular case was to get the crook out of his intellect. It ought to have been settled long ago, as a princ.i.p.al of moral and mental philosophy, that you cannot beat honesty and virtue into men or dogs. And so this young canine rascal will come back to do to-morrow what he has done to-day. Does the boy rob bird's nests or plum trees any the less because he gets a sprouting now and then? He has in his moral system a thousand years of inherited apt.i.tude for such predatory excursions.
The moulting season having come, the "chicken lot" looks as if several feather beds had been emptied there. There is less crowing and apparently more time given to meditation and introspection. The old rooster and his harem are now in undress, and a hint has been given that domestic eggs will be scarce for the next month. A young chick that learned to crow hardly more than a month ago, and eats from the hand with fine audacity, has just begun to balance his accounts. He is in full dress--his first suit, as it were--and is not subject to the moulting process at present. But having been under the tyranny of the patriarch who has now lost his tail, the younger one calls him to account daily. There is a hint of retributive justice here. All tyrants ought to have some part of their accounts settled in this world. By way of example, it might be better if the settlements were very complete. After all, there are very few tyrants who manage to get out of the world without a partial accounting with humanity. Now and then, it is measure for measure, the tyrant having his heaped up a little by way of emphasis. That last reflection is made clearer by the way that young rooster, in his juvenile dress, persists in settling his grievances. He knows nothing of the quality of magnanimity, which suggests that when an adversary has had a sound drubbing he should be let off with a mild regret that any such chastening had been necessary. There is little probability that the quality of mercy will be strained at present. Although, when a tramp called at the kitchen door, unkempt, belated and besotted, the compa.s.sionate Bridget set him out a generous breakfast. But when he complained that the coffee was not hot, the quality of mercy was strained which withheld the firing of the poker and coal scuttle at his head. The asceticism of the modern tramp, and the delicacy and exacting nature of his tastes, const.i.tute the latest problem in sociology. It is strange, too, that his moulting season should last the year round. His laying off season never ends. His gains are in inverse proportion to his industry. It might be well to inquire whether there is not a secret profit in cultivating incapacity for work. This Christian Bedouin gets al
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»