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'Tis Nature's own bright Whitsuntide,
The bloom of apple-trees.
The orchards stand like huge bouquets
And o'er them hum the bees.
My dreams that first night at the old farm were many and disturbing; and I waked in the morning with a resentful recollection that I had received not a few hard knocks; but as everything was quiet, I dismissed the impression; for I had yet to learn that my new bed-fellow was a spasmodic kicker in his sleep of great range and power.
Erelong grandmother knocked at our chamber door and called us. Halstead hastily opened his eyes and rose, as suddenly as he had fallen asleep, without even a preliminary yawn.
"Sunday, isn't it?" said he, as he dressed. "But we don't have to go to church to-day. It's the Elder's turn to preach at Stoneham; he only comes here half the time."
After breakfast and after family prayers, Addison, Halstead and I went out to the garden and there was some effort at a conversation about blue-birds, a pair of which were building in a box on a pole which had been set up in the garden wall. But we did not yet feel much acquainted; Addison soon went back toward the house; Halstead sauntered off among the apple trees in the orchard, and gradually approached the wall near the road; then with a swift glance about him, he sprang over and crouched out of sight behind it.
It occurred to me that he was doing this to initiate a frolic; and after waiting for a few moments, I drew near the place and peeped over. But he was not hidden there. Immediately I espied him down the road, evidently stealing away.
White Sunday, indeed! The orchard was a sunlit wilderness of pink and white blossoms. Every breath of the breeze shook off showers of them. The ground grew white beneath the trees. The garden was bordered with hedges of currant bushes; and within them stood a regiment of bare bean-poles in line. On the upper side was a bee-house, also a long row of grape trellises, covered with dry vines, showing here and there a large, pale green bud.
Presently Theodora came out.
"Alone, cousin?" she asked. "Where are the other boys?"
I told her that Addison had gone into the house.
I replied that he was in the orchard a few minutes ago.
"He's gone now," said she, glancing through the trees. "Let's go find Addison."
No long search was necessary. She led the way directly up-stairs to his room and tapped at the door. There was a moment's skurry inside and a voice said, "Who's there?"
"Doad," — with a smile to me.
The key turned and Addison looked out.
"I have brought our new cousin," she said. "Can we come in?"
"Yes," said he, hesitantly, with a backward glance into the room. "Come in. Halse isn't there, is he?"
"No, Halse has gone, again," said Theodora.
They looked at each other significantly. Addison then opened the door and bustled about, clearing out chairs for us. The room seemed filled with things. On one side there was a great cupboard, stuffed, in a helter-skelter way, with books, papers and magazines. Farther along stood a bureau upon the top of which were set several bottles. A hat-tree in the corner had, perched upon it, a stuffed crow, a hawk and a blue jay with bright glass eyes. A rough shelf had been put up along one end, on which lay many glistening stones of all sorts and sizes; and on the bed was a large book, open to some cuts of birds.
"Naughty boy!" exclaimed Theodora, pointing to several loose feathers on the bed and on the floor. "What did you promise me?"
"No, I will not hush it up!" cried Theodora. "You deserve to be exposed! A youth who breaks his promises! You shall show us what you've been doing. I know where you have hidden it!" Before he could hinder her, she threw back the pillow and lo! more feathers and a small white and black bird! "Ah-ha, sir!" she exclaimed. "Didn't you say that you would not 'mount' another bird, Sunday?"
"Yes, I did, I own I did," said Addison. "But I only got this bobolink last night. He would spoil, if I let him go till Monday. Besides, I shall have to work then. And (holding him up) he's such a little beauty that I couldn't bear to lose him."
This last appeal disarmed Theodora. "We will pass it over this time," she said; "but (lowering her voice) you must not 'stuff' birds, Sunday. Yet now that you've broken the Commandment in your heart, by beginning, perhaps you might as well finish it. So we will both go off and let you get through with your wickedness as soon as you can."
"Addison is a real good cousin," Theodora said to me, apologetically, as we returned to the orchard. "He is one of the nicest boys I ever saw. He almost never gets angry, and always speaks in a gentlemanly way to grandfather and grandmother; and he is real good to us girls, whenever we have anything hard to do, or want to make flower boxes, or spade up our flower beds. He knows the different kinds of rocks and trees and flowers, and the birds, too, and all about their nests and where they go winters. Uncle William, you know, was a teacher, the preceptor of an Academy; he understood botany and mineralogy and taught Ad when he was a little boy. Addison means to get a college education, if he can make his way to do it.
"I should like to get a good education, too," Theodora added after awhile. "Have you any plans of your own?"
I replied that I had no plans as yet; but that I, too, would like to attend school.
"We all go to the district school here," said Theodora, "and we can learn a good deal, if we study well. But I should like to go to a more advanced school when I get a little older, so that I could be a teacher myself, perhaps; though I would rather be something else than a teacher," she added.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Oh, I don't quite like to tell you that just yet," she said.
"I am going to show you the good apple trees," she continued, and led the way through the orchard. "These three great ones, here below the garden wall, are Orange Speck trees; they are real nice apples for winter; and there is the Gilliflower tree. Over here is the Early Sweet Bough; and that big one is the August Sweeting; and out there are the three August Pippins. All those away down there toward the road are Baldwins and Greenings. Those two by the lane wall are None Such trees. Out there by the corn-field wall are four Sweet Harvey trees and next below them, two Georgianas. I learned all their names last year. But this one here by the currant bushes is a Sops-in-wine. Oh, they are so good! and they get ripe early, too, and so do the August Pippins and the Harveys and the August Sweetings; they are all nice. Those small trees just below the barnyard fence are pears, Bartlett pears, luscious ones! and those vines on the trellises are the Isabella and Concord grapes; some years grapes don't get ripe up here in Maine; but they did last year, pretty ripe, in October. Grandfather carried some of them to the County Fair and lots of the apples; he had over forty different kinds of fruit on exhibition. We girls went with him and placed the apples and pears and the grapes on plates, in the Fair building. You will go with us this year, I suppose.
"All this ground here is planted to beets and carrots and turnips. You mustn't step on it," my pleasant-voiced cousin admonished me. "And we will not go up very close to that little shed there. That is the bee-house. See all those hives! The bees will sometimes sting any one they don't know. Ad isn't afraid of them; I am not much afraid; they have never stung me. They sting Halstead like sport, if he goes up in front of the hives. Grandfather puts on a veil and some gloves and takes them off the apple tree limbs, when they swarm. Ellen is afraid of them, too; but Wealthy will go up and sit right down in her little chair, close by that biggest, old, dark-colored hive. There's an enormous swarm in that hive; and they send out two or three young swarms every year; that is one of them in the white, tall hive there at the end of the shed.
"Last year robber bees came out of the woods and attacked that hive with the red cap-piece on it. Ad watched them all through one day and threw hot water on the robbers. You'll see lots of excitement here when a swarm comes out and grandfather has to hive them. They got fifty cents a pound for the honey one year; but it isn't so high now. In the winter the hives stand right out in the cold and snowdrifts. In February, last winter, the drift in front of the shed was higher than the shed itself. Grandfather stops up the holes into the hives, that's all; and in March, before the snow is gone, the bees sometimes come out and get the honey-sap on the birch and maple logs, when the men-folks are working up the big woodpile in front of the wood-shed."
Ellen and Wealthy saw us talking by the bee-house, and approached the garden gate. "Come down here, girls, and get acquainted with our new cousin," Theodora called to them.
"Don't say much to them at first," she continued to me in a lower tone. "They are bashful."
Being in much the same case, I looked another way while the two girls joined us, Theodora having for the moment directed my attention to a tremendously large queen bumble-bee which came booming along the ground and began burrowing in a little heap of dry grass.
"Halstead says those big bumble-bees are the kings," Wealthy ventured to remark.
"Well, that is not right," said Ellen. "For Ad says they are the queens."
Theodora looked at me and laughed. "You see Ad's word is law," she said. "But now I want to show you Gram's geese."
We climbed the garden wall and went around a large shed which joined the "west barn" and then down into a little hollow behind it, where a rill from a spring had been dammed to form a goose-pond, fifty or sixty feet across. Near by the pond, in the edge of a potato field, we found the geese, seven of them and a gander, which latter extended an aquatic, pink beak and hissed his displeasure at our approach. "Go back, Job!" Theodora said to him; Wealthy stepped to the rear of the others, being still a little afraid of "Job." He was a grievous biter, Theodora informed me, and had bitten her several times, till she had given him a switching for it.
"Two old geese are sitting on eggs in a goose-house, under the shed, near the barn," Ellen said. "That's what makes Job so valiant. It's most time for them to hatch the goslings; Gram has given us strict orders not to go nigh them."
My new cousins, having undertaken to show me the sights of the farm, conducted me next to the large old barns, now empty of hay, disclosing yawning hay bays, weathered brown beams and grain scaffolds.
On this Sabbath morning, the cobwebbed roofs were vocal with the twitterings of many tireless, happy swallows, whose mud nests were placed against the dusty ribs and rafters. Three comma-shaped swallow-holes in the gable gave them access to the inside, where for two generations of men they had found a safe breeding-place. Less safe and less fortunate were the eaves swallows, a row of whose mud nests was placed along one side of the barn, beneath the eaves without; for wind, sun and rain often caused their nests to fall; crows, too, at times stole up and plundered them; and weasels playing along the margin of the roof, had been known to throttle the fledglings.
"He must go and see the 'Little Sea,'" said Ellen.
"Yes, cousin," Theodora said, "you have no doubt heard of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea; but up here at Gramp's we have a new sea that no geographer has yet put down on the map. It isn't every day that anybody can discover a new sea, you know."
Ellen and Wealthy led the way across the fields toward the east side of the farm; we crossed the road and descended through a wide field of grass land, and came to a broad stone wall, extending for near half a mile betwixt the fields and the pastures. Here grew a long, irregular row of wild red cherry trees and black cherry trees, now just past the season of bloom.
"The cherries off some of these trees are fine to eat," Theodora remarked as we stood on the wall and looked about. "This one here is Gramp's tree," she said. "Those off this tree are nearly half as large as the 'tame' cherries; and this one by the rock is my tree; and those out by the pine stump are Ellen's and Wealthy's. Halstead claims a whole row of those higher up; he talks large if any of us rob his trees; but the birds get the most of them. Ad thinks they are not really fit to eat and says there is danger in swallowing the stones. We have enough of the large, tame cherries, too, all through July and until the first of August. Those trees that you saw along the barnyard fence of the north barn are the tame cherry trees. The black cherries do not get ripe till later; October is the month for them. They are nice when real glossy black and ripe, after the first frosts. The trees are just loaded down with them, sometimes; and right there, by that double tree, is where Uncle Henry and Uncle Edmund (your father) saw a bear in the tree, or in a tree that stood there then; it may not be the same one, but it was a cherry tree. The bear was up in the tree, getting cherries. He would reach out and pull in the branches with his paws, and then draw the little twigs, all covered with cherries, through his big mouth and scrape off a lot at once. That was what he was doing there, and he had broken the top of the tree half off. The boys heard the green limbs creaking and cracking, and the tree shaking under the bear's weight. So they stole up and stood on the wall to look; and pretty soon they saw his black hair amongst the leaves; but the bear was so busy eating cherries that he did not notice them. They had no gun, so they each picked up a good big stone and both threw at once; and one of them hit the bear, thump, on his back! It took him by surprise, I expect, and his mouth being so full of leaves and cherries, he sucked some of them down the wrong way, maybe; for they said the old fellow gave an awful cough! — and then started to slide down the tree. At that they both turned and ran, like sport, for the house; for they imagined the old bear meant to pay them back for that stone that had hit him."
"Did the bear chase them?" I cried.
"I rather think not," replied Theodora. "I didn't hear that he did."
"Are there bears around here now?" I inquired.
"Not many; they don't come around the buildings now as they did when our fathers were boys."
"Old 'Three-Legs' comes into the sheep-pasture after the sheep," said Ellen.
"Yes, and Halstead says he saw him when he was looking for the cows, one night this spring," said Wealthy.
"Is 'Three-Legs' a bear?" I asked, greatly interested.
"Yes, a very bold, cunning old bear that lost his right foot in a trap years ago," Ellen explained. "Halstead says he saw him about a month ago."
"Halstead sees lots of bears," said Theodora, laughing. "I suppose there are a few about, yet," she added. "They come down out of the Great Woods once in awhile. But Gramp says there is no danger in our going out in the pastures and the woods around the farm, except perhaps a little while in the spring, when they first come out of their winter dens and are very gaunt and hungry."
"Gram doesn't like to have us go off into the woods," said Wealthy.
"I have been all over the pasture and through all these woods here, and those on the west side of the farm; and once, last November, I went up to Mud Pond in the Great Woods, with Ad, after beaver-lily root, and I never saw any bears," said Theodora.
"Nor I either," said Ellen. "But Gram never likes to have us go off far."
"Where is the 'Great Woods'?" I asked.
"Oh, away off to the north and the west of the farms," replied Theodora. "Most anything may come out of the Great Woods! It's a realm of mystery. It extends off to the White Mountains and to the Lakes and toward Canada. There are deer and moose in it, and 'lucivees.'"
"What are they?" I asked.
"It's a kind of big woods cat," Ellen said. "Some hunters brought out three which they had shot, last winter; they were as large as dogs and had pretty little black tufts on their ears, and such great, round, silvery eyes and such paws, too, with toe-nails an inch long!"
"Addison thinks that there are valuable minerals up in the Great Woods," Theodora remarked; "silver and amethysts and tourmalines. The day he and I and Kate Edwards went after the beaver-lily root, we climbed part way up a high mountain and on the side of it Ad found rock crystals. Oh, such beautiful ones! as large as a pear. He says he is going to explore all those mountains, by and by."
"Are there mountains in the Great Woods?" I inquired.
"Yes, and ponds and brooks full of trout and I don't know what else. I would like to explore it myself. Addison said that some time, when the work is well along, we can get up a party and go up there, to explore and fish and camp out a week. Wouldn't that be fun?"
"But it isn't often that the work is well along," remarked Ellen. "There is always lots to do here."
"Well, now we must go down to the 'Little Sea,'" said Theodora; and we descended through the pasture, a large tract of grazing land, partly bushy, overgrown in many places by high, rank brakes, and at length came to a brook, running over a sandy bed. Here at a bend was an artificial pond, formed by a dam, built of stones laid up in a broad wall across the course of the brook. In one place the wall was six or seven feet in height; and through a little sluice-way of planks, the water ran in a slender stream over the dam and fell into a pool below it. The pond was perhaps a hundred feet in length by forty or fifty in width; a part of the bottom was sandy and in one place it was over a boy's head in depth.
"This is the famous Little Sea," said Theodora. "Isn't it an extensive sheet of water?"
"Who built the dam?" I inquired.
"Oh, your father and mine and all the rest of our uncles, grandfather's first boys, when they were young."
"What did they build it for?" I asked.
"To wash the sheep. They hold the sheep under the stream of water where it falls over the sluice-way below the dam here," replied Ellen.
"And to learn to swim in," said Wealthy. "They used to swim here when they were boys; and Ad and Halstead come down here now, Saturday evenings, for a bath. Doad and Nell and I are going to have us some bathing suits and come down here, too, so that if ever we go to the seashore, we may know how to swim."
The older girls laughed indulgently at Wealthy for thus ingenuously informing me of their projects.
"Well, you needn't laugh," said Wealthy, coloring. "He's our cousin, isn't he?"
This made me feel so awkward that, to change the subject, I began skipping stones, and was very glad to have Ellen ask me whether I knew how to make "whistles." I did not. "I do," said she. "If you will lend me your pocket-knife, I will show you how."
"But it is Sunday, Nell," said Theodora, smiling.
"So 'tis!" exclaimed Ellen. "I forgot."
"I guess it need be no harm to make just one, now you've spoken of it," said Theodora. So the knife being opened, I was instructed how to cut a stick of green osier, or maple, shape the end, cut and loosen the bark; and having slipped the bark off, how further to make the requisite notches, so that the hollow cylinder of bark being replaced, there would be a whistle of keen, shrill note.
This bit of sylvan handicraft having been explained to me, in detail, Theodora announced that it was time to return to the house. "Gram does not approve of our taking too long strolls on Sunday," said she. "But so long as we do right, I can see no harm in it. Besides, our new cousin had never seen the farm before and to-morrow he will have to go to work, I suppose."
"But there's lots more to show him," said Ellen. "He hasn't seen the house-leek rocks, nor the old cider mill, nor the artichoke flat, nor the sap-house, nor the colts."
"Nor the other trout brook where Ad caught the mink, nor the wood-chuck wall, nor the bog where the big mud-turtle lives, nor the blackberry hill, nor 'the fort.' Why, he hasn't seen hardly anything, yet," Wealthy added.
"O well, he will have time to see it all, for he is going to live here, you know," said Theodora. "But now we really ought to go home, for we must help Gram get up the dinner, and it is past noon already, I think."
We took our way leisurely up through the fields where the wild strawberries were in bloom, great patches of them, half an acre in extent, white with the lowly blossoms. The girls carefully marked certain places, so as to know where to come early in July, when the grass was grown tall.
"Gramp does not quite like to have us come into the tall grass, after strawberries," Theodora remarked, "because we trample the grass down and make it difficult to mow; but Gram always sends us out and sometimes goes herself."
"And when she goes, I tell you the grass has to catch it!" exclaimed Wealthy. "She just creeps along and crushes down a whole acre of it at one time!"
"Yes, Gramp scolded a little about it one day," said Ellen. "He came in at noon and said to grandma, 'Ruth Ann, I should think that the Millerites had been creeping through my east field.' He said that to tease her, because Gram doesn't approve of the Millerites at all.
"'Joseph,' said Gram, pretty short for her, 'I'm afraid your memory's failing you.'
"'What's my memory got to do with it?' said Gramp.
"'Didn't I put it in the bargain when I married you, that I should be allowed to go strawberrying in the hay fields just when I wanted to?' Gram said.
"At that, Gramp began to laugh and said, that if his memory was failing, there certainly was nothing the matter with grandma's memory; and he never said another word about the grass; so I guess he did make some such promise when they were married."
The girls went into the house; and feeling pretty warm from our walk, I lay down beneath one of the large old Balm o' Gileads. Addison came out of the sitting-room and asked where we had been. "I was going to ask you to go down to the 'Little Sea,'" he added, "for a swim before dinner. But if you have been down there and back, you would be too warm to go into the water; so I'll lend you a book to read."
He brought me from his room Cudjo's Cave, saying that the Old Squire and Gram might not consider it wholly proper reading for Sunday, but that it was his most interesting book, in the way of a story.
"Do you call grandfather the 'Old Squire'?" I asked.
"Yes, that is what the folks around here mostly call him," replied Addison. "So I do. It doesn't sound quite so childish as to be always saying grandfather, or grandpa.
"Of course," Addison continued, "we expect girls, or little boys, to say 'grandfather,' or 'gramp'; but we boys when we are out among other boys, have to say the 'Old Squire,' or the 'old man,' or else they would be laughing at us for milksops. It doesn't do for a boy to seem too childish, you know.
"But I never like the sound of 'the old man,'" Addison went on coaching me confidentially. "Sounds disrespectful and sort of rowdy. I don't like 'old gent,' either. But I sometimes speak of grandfather as the old gentleman and of grandmother, generally, as 'Gram.' So do the girls. She likes that, too; for some reason she doesn't like to be called grandmother very well. I guess it makes her feel too old. For fun I called her 'Ruth' one day. That is her given name, you know. She looked at me and laughed. 'Addison,' she exclaimed, 'you are getting to be quite a young man!'
"But I guess if the truth were known," Addison continued sapiently, "that no oldish people like to be called grandpa and grandma very well, till they get to be as much as eighty years old. Then they seem to enjoy it."
Grandmother provided but two meals on Sunday: breakfast at about eight in the morning, and dinner at three in the afternoon. Consequently we were sitting down to dinner, with very good appetites, judging the others by my own, when one seat was seen to be vacant.
"Where's Halstead?" the Old Squire asked.
There was an expectant hush; and again I saw Theodora and Addison glance across to each other. As no one seemed to know, nothing further was said. We were half through dinner, when the absent one came quickly into the kitchen, looking very red and much heated. With a stealthy glance through the open door into the dining-room, he hastily bathed his face in cold water, then came in and took his place. His hair was wet, his collar limp, and altogether he looked like a boy fresh from a hot run.
"Where have you been, Halstead?" the Old Squire inquired.
"Up in the sheep pasture, sir," said Halstead promptly. "I can't make but forty-seven lambs, the way I count. There is one gone."
"A very sudden liking for shepherd life," remarked Addison in an undertone to Theodora.
"What made you run and heat yourself so?" Gram asked him.
"I was afraid I should be late to dinner," answered Halstead with a bold look, intended for a frank one.
Grandfather looked at him earnestly; but nothing more was said. We all felt uneasy. Dinner ended rather drearily.
In the evening Theodora read to us several chapters from Dred, Mrs. Stowe's novel. Anti-slavery books were then well nigh sacred at the old farm. Almost any other work of fiction would hardly have been considered fit reading for Sunday.