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CHAPTER XVI

CAESAR AND MAPLE SYRUP

AT eight o'clock fires were kindled and the business of evaporating the sap began. What clouds of steam it made in and around the sap-house, on that sharp cold morning! Addison constituted himself fireman and pan-tender. The science of evaporating rapidly lies in judiciously supplying the pan or pans with sap, boiling hot from the "heater,'' as we termed the kettle in which the cold sap was first raised to the boiling point. Halstead was set to fell and cut up a decayed maple, while I split and prepared dry wood from the pile, getting it ready for the fire. We worked till toward eleven when Theodora and Ellen came, bringing a small kettle in which there was a loaf of bread and a ball of fresh butter, churned that morning, also several small bowls. By this time the sap in the evaporator was very yellow and quite ropy. Theodora dipped out two quarts into the little kettle and, with Addison's assistance, set it over the "cuddy hole" of the arch, next the chimney. In the course of fifteen minutes more they pronounced it down to syrup and taking it off set the kettle to cool in the snow outside. Halstead had marked the approach of the girls and, feeling sure what was to follow, left his task and came to the sap-house, with a smilingly expectant countenance. "Just in time," Theodora called out to him. "Now all find seats for yourselves."

When we had gathered around she gave us each a bowl half full of syrup, sliced the loaf of bread and having set the ball of butter, with a knife conveniently by, cried, "Now let's sample the syrup."

It was the first time I had ever tasted maple molasses fresh from the kettle; and it seemed to me that I had never found anything equal to it, — so smooth to the tongue, so delicious to the palate.

"Don't this taste good," mumbled Halstead incoherently. "Wish my throat was two hundred feet long. I would like to sit here and feel every spoonful creep like a snail along the whole length of it."

"O, you glutton!" exclaimed Ellen. "But it is good, no mistake."

We found it so delightful that we voted to put on a second small kettleful for syruping, and before we had finished our lunch I imagine that we disposed of fully a pint of syrup apiece. Our labor during the morning, the cold air and the rough sylvan surroundings all combined to give us good appetites; and I do not recollect that we experienced any inconvenience from so unusual a ration of sweets.

Afterwards Theodora syruped a third kettleful to take home to Gram and the Old Squire. Ellen kindly assisted me at gathering sap for an hour; but as this is too hard work for girls, we then set her to tend the fire, while Addison took her place.

Halstead resumed his labors, wood-cutting, and toward night hauled nearly half a cord of it to the sap-house door, on the hand-sled. Indeed, there was plenty of work to do; for since nine o'clock in the forenoon, the sap had flowed copiously all day; and we had need to go on evaporating it for two hours or more after supper that evening.

It was a calm spring night, quite mild, although the soft snow began freezing, as soon as the sun set. Through the branches of the great maples, beyond the sap-house, a warm red glow lingered long op the western horizon; and the little saw-whet owls were calling out softly in the wooded lowland.

Addison had brought a small kerosene lamp from the house, and as the evening darkened, he lighted it and set it on one of the sap-holders, inside the open door. It gave but a feeble light, yet sufficed for young eyes; and immediately the kettles and pan were boiling well, Addison cried, "Now for Cæsar," and produced the copy which Joel had sent us.

"I'm afraid I couldn't translate a line of it," said Theodora.

"I know I cannot," said Ellen.

"Well, here goes," said Addison, opening to the first section of the first book. "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres; quarum unam incolunt Belgæ," he pronounced slowly and ponderously.

"But stop, Ad, let's read the English Introduction and the brief biography of Julius Cæsar first, so as to get some understanding of what it is all about," said Theodora. "That will perhaps make it a little easier."

"All right; but I have read that already," said Addison. "You read it, though; read it aloud so the rest can hear. I would like to hear it again, too."

Sitting on a bucket, with her back to the sap-holder on which the dim light was placed, Theodora read the Introductory Sketch, the rest of us listening with the deepest interest, trying to comprehend and remember it all. She was progressing slowly with it, re-reading some paragraphs, pausing to talk and comment on it at intervals, when we heard voices outside and saw a lantern, flitting among the maples at a little distance.

"That's Thomas and Kate," cried Ellen. "Only hear Kate fretting because the snow slumps so vexatiously, and Thomas laughing at her."

They came to the door and saluted us merrily.

"We're not boiling sap this evening," Tom explained, "so we thought we would call on you awhile. Kate wanted to see the new Latin book."

"Well, here it is!" said Theodora. "I'm reading the Introduction in English. That is hard enough for me."

"Do begin it again," cried Thomas. "I want to hear it."

"What assurance, Tom!" said Catherine. "Perhaps she doesn't want to read it again."

"She must," exclaimed Thomas. "We've got to hear it."

"Certainly," assented Theodora, good-humoredly; and she began again.

An hour or two was spent upon this, for we had many points to discuss in it; but at length we gathered in a group, some looking over the shoulders of the others, to glance at those first lines of Latin, and see what we could make of them.

"Well, omnis means all," said Theodora. "I know so much."

"And Gallia is Gaul, of course, which is now France," said Catherine.

"Divisa is the participle from divido which means divide," remarked Addison; "and est, as we all know, means is. So there you have it: All Gaul is divided — "

"I saw whole pages of notes," I exclaimed. "About half the book is notes; and they tell a great deal about the Latin part. Let's look at the notes."

"But is that right?" questioned Theodora.

"Of course," said Thomas. "Else what are they there for?"

We had immediate recourse to the notes and found that about half the Latin was translated there, or at least explained so as to be easily translated. With this important aid, we soon learned that All Gaul is divided into three parts one of which the Belg inhabit, another the Aquitanians, and the third — here we stuck fast. How to translate qui ipsorum lingua Celtæ we were all at a loss. It was a complete puzzle; and as it was already nearing nine o'clock, we were obliged to give it up for that night.

If I remember aright it was not till the second night after, that Addison solved the tangle of words in the third and fourth lines, and succeeded in making the meaning plain to the others. It is but fair to say, however, that we found nothing much harder than that, afterwards.

We had become so much absorbed and agitated over those two lines, that we quite forgot :the sap and allowed the fire to go down so low that when at length Thomas called attention to the fact, the pan had entirely ceased boiling. We therefore shut up the sap-house, said good night to our visitors, and all set off for home. When we had gone some little distance along the path and Thomas and Catherine had nearly reached the line wall between their field and our maple grove, we suddenly heard the former shouting vigorously: "Hullo! Hullo, over there!" "Hullo! What's the matter?" Addison shouted back.

"Something has happened!" shouted Thomas, although we could hear Catherine, in lower tones, trying to hush him.

"Well, what is it?" we all shouted, a good deal interested.

"All Gaul is divided into three parts!" replied Thomas in a voice that might have been heard a mile. "One of which the Belgæ inhabit!"

This amused Theodora exceedingly. Addison shouted back, "You go home and find out which part the Celts inhabit!"


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