Adventures in Friendship/Chapter X
"Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons, It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth."
This is a well earned Sunday morning. My chores were all done long ago, and I am sitting down here after a late and leisurely breakfast with that luxurious feeling of irresponsible restfulness and comfort which comes only upon a clean, still Sunday morning like this—after a week of hard work—a clean Sunday morning, with clean clothes, and a clean chin, and clean thoughts, and the June airs stirring the clean white curtains at my windows. From across the hills I can hear very faintly the drowsy sounds of early church bells, never indeed to be heard here except on a morning of surpassing tranquillity. And in the barnyard back of the house Harriet's hens are cackling triumphantly: they are impiously unobservant of the Sabbath day.
I turned out my mare for a run in the pasture. She has rolled herself again and again in the warm earth and shaken herself after each roll with an equine delight most pleasant to see. Now, from time to time, I can hear her gossipy whickerings as she calls across the fields to my neighbour Horace's young bay colts.
When I first woke up this morning I said to myself:
"Well, nothing happened yesterday."
Then I lay quiet for some time—it being Sunday morning—and I turned over in my mind all that I had heard or seen or felt or thought about in that one day. And presently I said aloud to myself:
"Why, nearly everything happened yesterday."
And the more I thought of it the more interesting, the more wonderful, the more explanatory of high things, appeared the common doings of that June Saturday. I had walked among unusual events—and had not known the wonder of them! I had eyes, but I did not see—and ears, but I heard not. It may be, it may be, that the Future Life of which we have had such confusing but wistful prophecies is only the reliving with a full understanding, of this marvellous Life that we now know. To a full understanding this day, this moment even—here in this quiet room—would contain enough to crowd an eternity. Oh, we are children yet—playing with things much too large for us—much too full of meaning.
Yesterday I cut my field of early clover. I should have been at it a full week earlier if it had not been for the frequent and sousing spring showers. Already half the blossoms of the clover had turned brown and were shriveling away into inconspicuous seediness. The leaves underneath on the lower parts of the stems were curling up and fading; many of them had already dropped away. There is a tide also in the affairs of clover and if a farmer would profit by his crop, it must be taken at its flood.
I began to watch the skies with some anxiety, and on Thursday I was delighted to see the weather become clearer, and a warm dry wind spring up from the southwest. On Friday there was not so much as a cloud of the size of a man's hand to be seen anywhere in the sky, not one, and the sun with lively diligence had begun to make up for the listlessness of the past week. It was hot and dry enough to suit the most exacting hay-maker.
Encouraged by these favourable symptoms I sent word to Dick Sheridan (by one of Horace's men) to come over bright and early on Saturday morning. My field is only a small one and so rough and uneven that I had concluded with Dick's help to cut it by hand. I thought that on a pinch it could all be done in one day.
"Harriet," I said, "we'll cut the clover to-morrow."
"That's fortunate," said Harriet, "I'd already arranged to have Ann Spencer in to help me."
Yesterday morning, then, I got out earlier than usual. It was a perfect June morning, one of the brightest and clearest I think I ever saw. The mists had not yet risen from the hollows of my lower fields, and all the earth was fresh with dew and sweet with the mingled odours of growing things. No hour of the whole day is more perfect than this.
I walked out along the edge of the orchard and climbed the fence of the field beyond. As I stooped over I could smell the heavy sweet odour of the clover blossoms. I could see the billowy green sweep of the glistening leaves. I lifted up a mass of the tangled stems and laid the palm of my hand on the earth underneath. It was neither too wet nor too dry.
"We shall have good cutting to-day," I said to myself.
So I stood up and looked with a satisfaction impossible to describe across the acres of my small domain, marking where in the low spots the crop seemed heaviest, where it was lodged and tangled by the wind and the rain, and where in the higher spaces it grew scarce thick enough to cover the sad baldness of the knolls. How much more we get out of life than we deserve!
So I walked along the edge of the field to the orchard gate, which I opened wide.
"Here," I said, "is where we will begin."
So I turned back to the barn. I had not reached the other side of the orchard when who should I see but Dick Sheridan himself, coming in at the lane gate. He had an old, coarse-woven straw hat stuck resplendently on the back of his head. He was carrying his scythe jauntily over his shoulder and whistling "Good-bye, Susan" at the top of his capacity.
Dick Sheridan is a cheerful young fellow with a thin brown face and (milky) blue eyes. He has an enormous Adam's apple which has an odd way of moving up and down when he talks—and one large tooth out in front. His body is like a bundle of wires, as thin and muscular and enduring as that of a broncho pony. He can work all day long and then go down to the lodge-hall at the Crossing and dance half the night. You should really see him when he dances! He can jump straight up and click his heels twice together before he comes down again! On such occasions he is marvellously clad, as befits the gallant that he really is, but this morning he wore a faded shirt and one of his suspender cords behind was fastened with a nail instead of a button. His socks are sometimes pale blue and sometimes lavender and commonly, therefore, he turns up his trouser legs so that these vanities may not be wholly lost upon a dull world. His full name is Richard Tecumseh Sheridan, but every one calls him Dick. A good, cheerful fellow, Dick, and a hard worker. I like him.
"Hello, Dick," I shouted.
"Hello yourself, Mr. Grayson," he replied.
He hung his scythe in the branches of a pear tree and we both turned into the barnyard to get the chores out of the way. I wanted to delay cutting as long as I could—until the dew on the clover should begin—at least—to disappear.
By half-past-seven we were ready for work. We rolled back our sleeves, stood our scythes on end and gave them a final lively stoning. You could hear the brisk sound of the ringing metal pealing through the still morning air.
"It's a great day for haying," I said.
"A dang good one," responded the laconic Dick, wetting his thumb to feel the edge of his scythe.
I cannot convey with any mere pen upon any mere paper the feeling of jauntiness I had at that moment, as of conquest and fresh adventure, as of great things to be done in a great world! You may say if you like that this exhilaration was due to good health and the exuberance of youth. But it was more than that—far more. I cannot well express it, but it seemed as though at that moment Dick and I were stepping out into some vast current of human activity: as though we had the universe itself behind us, and the warm regard and approval of all men.
I stuck my whetstone in my hip-pocket, bent forward and cut the first short sharp swath in the clover. I swept the mass of tangled green stems into the open space just outside the gate. Three or four more strokes and Dick stopped whistling suddenly, spat on his hands and with a lively "Here she goes!" came swinging in behind me. The clover-cutting had begun.
At first I thought the heat would be utterly unendurable, and, then, with dripping face and wet shoulders, I forgot all about it. Oh, there is something incomparable about such work—the long steady pull of willing and healthy muscles, the mind undisturbed by any disquieting thought, the feeling of attainment through vigorous effort! It was a steady swing and swish, swish and swing! When Dick led I have a picture of him in my mind's eye—his wiry thin legs, one heel lifted at each step and held rigid for a single instant, a glimpse of pale blue socks above his rusty shoes and three inches of whetstone sticking from his tight hip-pocket. It was good to have him there whether he led or followed.
At each return to the orchard end of the field we looked for and found a gray stone jug in the grass. I had brought it up with me filled with cool water from the pump. Dick had a way of swinging it up with one hand, resting it in his shoulder, turning his head just so and letting the water gurgle into his throat. I have never been able myself to reach this refinement in the art of drinking from a jug.
And oh! the good feel of a straightened back after two long swathes in the broiling sun! We would stand a moment in the shade, whetting our scythes, not saying much, but glad to be there together. Then we would go at it again with renewed energy. It is a great thing to have a working companion. Many times that day Dick and I looked aside at each other with a curious sense of friendliness—that sense of friendliness which grows out of common rivalries, common difficulties and a common weariness. We did not talk much: and that little of trivial matters.
"Jim Brewster's mare had a colt on Wednesday."
"This'll go three tons to the acre, or I'll eat my shirt."
Dick was always about to eat his shirt if some particular prophecy of his did not materialize.
"Dang it all," says Dick, "the moon's drawin' water."
"Something is undoubtedly drawing it," said I, wiping my dripping face.
A meadow lark sprang up with a song in the adjoining field, a few heavy old bumblebees droned in the clover as we cut it, and once a frightened rabbit ran out, darting swiftly under the orchard fence.
So the long forenoon slipped away. At times it seemed endless, and yet we were surprised when we heard the bell from the house (what a sound it was!) and we left our cutting in the middle of the field, nor waited for another stroke.
"Hungry, Dick?" I asked.
"Hungry!" exclaimed Dick with all the eloquence of a lengthy oration crowded into one word.
So we drifted through the orchard, and it was good to see the house with smoke in the kitchen chimney, and the shade of the big maple where it rested upon the porch. And not far from the maple we could see our friendly pump with the moist boards of the well-cover in front of it. I cannot tell you how good it looked as we came in from the hot, dry fields.
"After you," says Dick.
I gave my sleeves another roll upward and unbuttoned and turned in the moist collar of my shirt. Then I stooped over and put my head under the pump spout.
"Pump, Dick," said I.
And Dick pumped.
"Harder, Dick," said I in a strangled voice.
And Dick pumped still harder, and presently I came up gasping with my head and hair dripping with the cool water. Then I pumped for Dick.
"Gee, but that's good," says Dick.
Harriet came out with clean towels, and we dried ourselves, and talked together in low voices. And feeling a delicious sense of coolness we sat down for a moment in the shade of the maple and rested our arms on our knees. From the kitchen, as we sat there, we could hear the engaging sounds of preparation, and busy voices, and the tinkling of dishes, and agreeable odours! Ah, friend and brother, there may not be better moments in life than this!
So we sat resting, thinking of nothing; and presently we heard the screen door click and Ann Spencer's motherly voice:
"Come in now, Mr. Grayson, and get your dinner."
Harriet had set the table on the east porch, where it was cool and shady. Dick and I sat down opposite each other and between us there was a great brown bowl of moist brown beans with crispy strips of pork on top, and a good steam rising from its depths; and a small mountain of baked potatoes, each a little broken to show the snowy white interior; and two towers of such new bread as no one on this earth (or in any other planet so far as I know) but Harriet can make. And before we had even begun our dinner in came the ample Ann Spencer, quaking with hospitality, and bearing a platter—let me here speak of it with the bated breath of a proper respect, for I cannot even now think of it without a sort of inner thrill—bearing a platter of her most famous fried chicken. Harriet had sacrificed the promising careers of two young roosters upon the altar of this important occasion. I may say in passing that Ann Spencer is more celebrated in our neighbourhood by virtue of her genius at frying chicken, than Aristotle or Solomon or Socrates, or indeed all the big-wigs of the past rolled into one.
So we fell to with a silent but none the less fervid enthusiasm. Harriet hovered about us, in and out of the kitchen, and poured the tea and the buttermilk, and Ann Spencer upon every possible occasion passed the chicken.
"More chicken, Mr. Grayson?" she would inquire in a tone of voice that made your mouth water.
"More chicken, Dick?" I'd ask.
"More chicken, Mr. Grayson," he would respond—and thus we kept up a tenuous, but pleasant little joke between us.
Just outside the porch in a thicket of lilacs a catbird sang to us while we ate, and my dog lay in the shade with his nose on his paws and one eye open just enough to show any stray flies that he was not to be trifled with—and far away to the North and East one could catch glimpses—if he had eyes for such things—of the wide-stretching pleasantness of our countryside.
I soon saw that something mysterious was going on in the kitchen. Harriet would look significantly at Ann Spencer and Ann Spencer, who could scarcely contain her overflowing smiles, would look significantly at Harriet. As for me, I sat there with perfect confidence in myself—in my ultimate capacity, as it were. Whatever happened, I was ready for it!
And the great surprise came at last: a SHORT-CAKE: a great, big, red, juicy, buttery, sugary short-cake, with raspberries heaped up all over it. When It came in—and I am speaking of it in that personal way because it radiated such an effulgence that I cannot now remember whether it was Harriet or Ann Spencer who brought it in—when It came in, Dick, who pretends to be abashed upon such occasions, gave one swift glance upward and then emitted a long, low, expressive whistle. When Beethoven found himself throbbing with undescribable emotions he composed a sonata; when Keats felt odd things stirring within him he wrote an ode to an urn, but my friend Dick, quite as evidently on fire with his emotions, merely whistled—and then looked around evidently embarrassed lest he should have infringed upon the proprieties of that occasion.
"Harriet," I said, "you and Ann Spencer are benefactors of the human race."
"Go 'way now," said Ann Spencer, shaking all over with pleasure, "and eat your shortcake."
And after dinner how pleasant it was to stretch at full length for a few minutes on the grass in the shade of the maple tree and look up through the dusky thick shadows of the leaves. If ever a man feels the blissfulness of complete content it is at such a moment—every muscle in the body deliciously resting, and a peculiar exhilaration animating the mind to quiet thoughts. I have heard talk of the hard work of the hay-fields, but I never yet knew a healthy man who did not recall many moments of exquisite pleasure connected with the hardest and the hottest work.
I think sometimes that the nearer a man can place himself in the full current of natural things the happier he is. If he can become a part of the Universal Process and know that he is a part, that is happiness. All day yesterday I had that deep quiet feeling that I was somehow not working for myself, not because I was covetous for money, nor driven by fear, not surely for fame, but somehow that I was a necessary element in the processes of the earth. I was a primal force! I was the indispensable Harvester. Without me the earth could not revolve!
Oh, friend, there are spiritual values here, too. For how can a man know God without yielding himself fully to the processes of God?
I lived yesterday. I played my part. I took my place. And all hard things grew simple, and all crooked things seemed straight, and all roads were open and clear before me. Many times that day I paused and looked up from my work knowing that I had something to be happy for.
At one o'clock Dick and I lagged our way unwillingly out to work again—rusty of muscles, with a feeling that the heat would now surely be unendurable and the work impossibly hard. The scythes were oddly heavy and hot to the touch, and the stones seemed hardly to make a sound in the heavy noon air. The cows had sought the shady pasture edges, the birds were still, all the air shook with heat. Only man must toil!
"It's danged hot," said Dick conclusively.
How reluctantly we began the work and how difficult it seemed compared with the task of the morning! In half an hour, however, the reluctance passed away and we were swinging as steadily as we did at any time in the forenoon. But we said less—if that were possible—and made every ounce of energy count. I shall not here attempt to chronicle all the events of the afternoon, how we finished the mowing of the field and how we went over it swiftly and raked the long windrows into cocks, or how, as the evening began to fall, we turned at last wearily toward the house. The day's work was done.
Dick had stopped whistling long before the middle of the afternoon, but now as he shouldered his scythe he struck up "My Fairy Fay" with some marks of his earlier enthusiasm.
"Well, Dick," said I, "we've had a good day's work together."
"You bet," said Dick.
And I watched him as he went down the lane with a pleasant friendly feeling of companionship. We had done great things together.
I wonder if you ever felt the joy of utter physical weariness: not exhaustion, but weariness. I wonder if you have ever sat down, as I did last night, and felt as though you would like to remain just there always—without stirring a single muscle, without speaking, without thinking even!
Such a moment is not painful, but quite the reverse—it is supremely pleasant. So I sat for a time last evening on my porch. The cool, still night had fallen sweetly after the burning heat of the day. I heard all the familiar sounds of the night. A whippoorwill began to whistle in the distant thicket. Harriet came out quietly—I could see the white of her gown—and sat near me. I heard the occasional sleepy tinkle of a cowbell, and the crickets were calling. A star or two came out in the perfect dark blue of the sky. The deep, sweet, restful night was on. I don't know that I said it aloud—such things need not be said aloud—but as I turned almost numbly into the house, stumbling on my way to bed, my whole being seemed to cry out: "Thank God, thank God!"