The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 100/Passages from Hawthorne's Note-Books

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
 

PASSAGES FROM HAWTHORNE'S NOTE-BOOKS.

II.

 

Maine, July 5, 1837.—Here I am, settled since night before last with B———, and living very singularly. He leads a bachelor's life in his paternal mansion, only a small part of which is occupied by a family who serve him. He provides his own breakfast and supper, and occasionally his dinner; though this is oftener, I believe, taken at the hotel or an eating-house, or with some of his relatives. I am his guest, and my presence makes no alteration in his way of life. Our fare, thus far, has consisted of bread, butter, and cheese, crackers, herrings, boiled eggs, coffee, milk, and claret wine. He has another inmate, in the person of a queer little Frenchman, who has his breakfast, tea, and lodging here, and finds his dinner elsewhere. Monsieur S——— does not appear to be more than twenty-one years old,—a diminutive figure, with eyes askew, and otherwise of an ungainly physiognomy; he is ill-dressed also, in a coarse blue coat, thin cotton pantaloons, and unbrushed boots; altogether with as little of French coxcombry as can well be imagined, though with something of the monkey-aspect inseparable from a little Frenchman. He is, nevertheless, an intelligent and well-informed man, apparently of extensive reading in his own language;—a philosopher, B——— tells me, and an infidel. His insignificant personal appearance stands in the way of his success, and prevents him from receiving the respect which is really due to his talents and acquirements; wherefore he is bitterly dissatisfied with the country and its inhabitants, and often expresses his feelings to B——— (who has gained his confidence to a certain degree) in very strong terms.

Thus here are three characters, each with something out of the common way, living together somewhat like monks. B———, our host, combines more high and admirable qualities, of that sort which make up a gentleman, than any other that I have met with. Polished, yet natural, frank, open, and straightforward, yet with a delicate feeling for the sensitiveness of his companions; of excellent temper and warm heart; well acquainted with the world, with a keen faculty of observation, which he has had many opportunities of exercising, and never varying from a code of honor and principle which is really nice and rigid in its way. There is a sort or philosophy developing itself in him which will not impossibly cause him to settle down in this or some other equally singular course of life. He seems almost to have made up his mind never to be married, which I wonder at; for he has strong affections, and is fond both of women and children.

The little Frenchman impresses me very strongly, too,—so lonely as he is here, struggling against the world, with bitter feelings in his breast, and yet talking with the vivacity and gayety of his nation; making this his home from darkness to daylight, and enjoying here what little domestic comfort and confidence there is for him; and then going about all the livelong day, teaching French to blockheads who sneer at him, and returning at about ten o'clock in the evening (for I was wrong in saying he supped here,—he eats no supper) to his solitary room and bed. Before retiring, he goes to B———'s bedside, and, if he finds him awake, stands talking French, expressing his dislike of the Americans,—"Je hais, je hais les Yankees!"—thus giving vent to the stifled bitterness of the whole day. In the morning I hear him getting up early, at sunrise or before, humming to himself, scuffling about his chamber with his thick boots, and at last taking his departure for a solitary ramble till breakfast. Then he comes in, cheerful and vivacious enough, eats pretty heartily, and is off again, singing French chansons as he goes down the gravel-walk. The poor fellow has nobody to sympathize with him but B———, and thus a singular connection is established between two utterly different characters.

Then here is myself, who am likewise a queer character in my way, and have come to spend a week or two with my friend of half a lifetime,—the longest space, probably, that we are ever destined to spend together; for Fate seems preparing changes for both of us. My circumstances, at least, cannot long continue as they are and have been; and B———, too, stands between high prosperity and utter ruin.

I think I should soon become strongly attached to our way of life, so independent and untroubled by the forms and restrictions of society. The house is very pleasantly situated,—half a mile distant from where the town begins to be thickly settled, and on a swell of land, with the road running at a distance of fifty yards, and a grassy tract and a gravel-walk between. Beyond the road rolls the Kennebec, here two or three hundred yards wide. Putting my head out of the window, I can see it flowing steadily along straightway between wooded banks; but arriving nearly opposite the house, there is a large and level sand island in the middle of the stream; and just below the island the current is further interrupted by the works of the mill-dam, which is perhaps half-finished, yet still in so rude a state that it looks as much like the ruins of a dam destroyed by the spring freshets as like the foundations of a dam yet to be. Irishmen and Canadians toil at work on it, and the echoes of their hammering and of the voices come across the river and up to this window. Then there is a sound of the wind among the trees round the house; and when that is silent, the calm, full, distant voice of the river becomes audible. Looking downward thither, I see the rush of the current, and mark the different eddies, with here and there white specks or streaks of foam; and often a log comes floating on, glistening in the sun, as it rolls over among the eddies, having voyaged, for aught I know, hundreds of miles from the wild, upper sources of the river, passing down, down, between lines of forest, and sometimes a rough clearing, till here it floats along by cultivated banks, and will soon pass by the village. Sometimes a long raft of boards comes along, requiring the nicest skill in navigating it through the narrow passage left by the mill-dam. Chaises and wagons occasionally go along the road, the riders all giving a passing glance at the dam, or perhaps alighting to examine it more fully, and at last departing with ominous shakes of the head as to the result of the enterprise. My position is so far retired from the river and mill-dam, that, though the latter is really rather a scene, yet a sort of quiet seems to be diffused over the whole. Two or three times a day this quiet is broken by the sudden thunder from a quarry, where the workmen are blasting rocks for the dam; and a peal of thunder sounds strange in such a green, sunny, and quiet landscape, with the blue sky brightening the river.

I have not seen much of the people. There have been, however, several incidents which amused me, though scarcely worth telling. A passionate tavern-keeper, quick as a flash of gunpowder, a nervous man, and showing in his demeanor, it seems, a consciousness of his infirmity of temper. I was a witness of a scuffle of his with a drunken guest. The tavern-keeper, after they were separated, raved like a madman, and in a tone of voice having a drolly pathetic or lamentable sound mingled with its rage, as if he were lifting up his voice to weep. Then he jumped into a chaise which was standing by, whipped up the horse, and drove off rapidly, as if to give his fury vent in that way.

On the morning of the Fourth of July, two printer's apprentice-lads, nearly grown, dressed in jackets and very tight pantaloons of check, tight as their skins, so that they looked like harlequins or circus-clowns, yet appeared to think themselves in perfect propriety, with a very calm and quiet assurance of the admiration of the town. A common fellow, a carpenter, who, on the strength of political partisanship, asked B———'s assistance in cutting out great letters from play-bills in order to print "Martin Van Buren Forever" on a flag; but B——— refused. B——— seems to be considerably of a favorite with the lower orders, especially with the Irishman and French Canadians,—the latter accosting him in the street, and asking his assistance as an interpreter in making their bargains for work.

I meant to have dined at the hotel with B——— to-day; but having returned to the house, leaving him to do some business in the village, I found myself unwilling to move when the dinner-hour approached, and therefore dined very well on bread, cheese, and eggs. Nothing of much interest takes place. We live very comfortably in our bachelor establishment on a cold shoulder of mutton, with ham and smoked beef and boiled eggs; and as to drinkables, we had both claret and brown sherry on the dinner-table to-day. Last evening we had a long literary and philosophical conversation with Monsieur S———. He is rather remarkably well-informed for a man of his age, and seems to have very just notions on ethics, etc., though damnably perverted as to religion. It is strange to hear philosophy of any sort from such a boyish figure. "We philosophers," he is fond of saying, to distinguish himself and his brethren from the Christians. One of his oddities is, that, while steadfastly maintaining an opinion that he is a very small and slow eater, and the we, in common with other Yankees, eat immensely and fast, he actually eats both faster and longer than we do, and devours, as B——— avers, more victuals than both of us together.

 

Saturday, July 8th.—Yesterday afternoon, a stroll with B——— up a large brook, he fishing for trout, and I looking on. The brook runs through a valley, on one side bordered by a high and precipitous bank; on the other there is an interval, and then the bank rises upward and upward into a high hill with gorges and ravines separating one summit from another, and here and there are bare places, where the rain-streams have washed away the grass. The brook is bestrewn with stones, some bare, some partially moss-grown, and sometimes so huge as—once at least—to occupy almost the whole breadth of the current. Amongst these the stream brawls, only that this word does not express its good-natured voice, and "murmur" is too quite. It sings along, sometimes smooth, with the pebbles visible beneath, sometimes rushing dark and swift, eddying and whitening past some rock, or underneath the hither or the farther bank; and at these places B——— cast his line, and sometimes drew out a trout, small, not more than five or six inches long. The farther we went up the brook, the wilder it grew. The opposite bank was covered with pines and hemlocks, ascending high upwards, black and solemn. One knew that there must be almost a precipice behind, yet we could not see it. At the foot you could spy, a little way within the darksome shade, the roots and branches of the trees; but soon all sight was obstructed amidst the trunks. On the hither side, at first the bank was bare, then fringed with alder-bushes, bending and dipping into the stream, which, farther on brawled through the midst of a forest of maple, beech, and other trees, its course growing wilder and wilder as we proceeded. For a considerable distance there was a causeway, built long ago of logs, to drag lumber upon; it was now decayed and rotten, a red decay, sometimes sunken down in the midst, here and there a knotty trunk stretching across, apparently sound. The sun being now low towards the west, a pleasant gloom and brightness were diffused through the forest, spots of brightness scattered upon the branches, or thrown down in gold upon the last year's leaves among the trees. At last we came to where a dam had been built across the brook many years ago, and was now gone to ruin, so as to make the spot look more solitary and wilder than if man had never left vestiges of his toil there. It was a framework of logs with a covering of plank sufficient to obstruct the onward flow of the brook; but it found its way past the side, and came foaming and struggling along among scattered rocks. Above the dam there was a broad and deep pool, one side of which was bordered by a precipitous wall of rocks, as smooth as if hewn out and squared, and piled one upon another, above which rose the forest. On the other side there was still a gently shelving bank, and the shore was covered with tall trees, among which I particularly remarked a stately pine, wholly devoid of bark, rising white in aged and majestic ruin, thrusting out its barkless arms. It must have stood there in death many years, its own ghost. Above the dam the brook flowed through the forest, a glistening and babbling water-path, illuminated by the sun, which sent its rays almost straight along its course. It was as lovely and wild and peaceful as it could possibly have been a hundred years ago; and the traces of labors of men long departed added a deeper peace to it. I bathed in the pool, and then pursued my way down beside the brook, growing dark with a pleasant gloom, as the sun sank and the water became more shadowy. B——— says that there was formerly a tradition, that the Indians used to go up this brook, and return, after a brief absence, with large masses of lead, which they sold at the trading stations in Augusta; whence there has always been an idea that there is a lead mine hereabouts. Great toadstools were under the trees, and some small ones as yellow and almost the size of a half-broiled yolk of an egg. Strawberries were scattered along the brookside.

Dined at the hotel or Mansion-House to-day. Men were playing checkers in the parlor. The Marshal of Maine, a corpulent, jolly fellow, famed for humor. A passenger left by the stage hiring an express onward. A bottle of champagne was quaffed at the bar.

 

July 9th.—Went with B——— to pay a visit to the shanties of the Irish and Canadians. He says that they sell and exchange these small houses among themselves continually. They may be built in three or four days, and are valued at four or five dollars. When the turf that is piled against the walls of some of them becomes covered with grass, it makes quite a picturesque object. It was almost dusk—just candle-lighting time—when we visited them. A young Frenchwoman, with a baby in her arms, came to the door of one of them, smiling, and looking pretty and happy. Her husband, a dark, black-haired, lively little fellow, caressed the child, laughing and singing to it; and there was a red-bearded Irishman, who likewise fondled the little brat. Then we could hear them within the hut, gabbling merrily, and could see them moving about briskly in the candlelight, through the window and open door. An old Irishwoman sat in the door of another hut, under the influence of an extra dose of rum,—she being an old lady of somewhat dissipated habits. She called to B———, and began to talk to him about her resolution not to give up her house: for it is his design to get her out of it. She is a true virago, and though somewhat restrained by respect for him, she evinced a sturdy design to remain here through the winter, or at least for a considerable time longer. He persisting, she took her stand in the doorway of the hut, and stretched out her fist in a very Amazonian attitude, "Nobody," quoth she, "shall drive me out of this house, till my praties are out of the ground." Then would she wheedle and laugh and blarney, beginning in a rage, and ending as if she had been in jest. Meanwhile her husband stood by very quiet, occasionally trying to still her; but it is to be presumed, that, after our departure, they came to blows, it being a custom with the Irish husbands and wives to settle their disputes with blows; and it is said the woman often proves the better man. The different families also have battles, and occasionally the Irish fight with the Canadians. The latter, however, are much the more peaceable, never quarrelling among themselves, and seldom with their neighbors. They are frugal, and often go back to Canada with considerable sums of money. B——— has gained much influence both with the Irish and the French,—with the latter, by dint of speaking to them in their own language. He is the umpire in their disputes, and their adviser, and they look up to him as a protector and patron-friend. I have been struck to see with what careful integrity and wisdom he manages matters among them, hitherto having known him only as a free and gay young man. He appears perfectly to understand their general character, of which he gives no very flattering description. In these huts, less than twenty feet square, he tells me that upwards of twenty people have sometimes been lodged.

A description of a young lady who had formerly been insane, and now felt the approach of a new fit of madness. She had been out to ride, had exerted herself much, and had been very vivacious. On her return, she sat down in a thoughtful and despondent attitude, looking very sad, but one of the loveliest objects that ever were seen. The family spoke to her, but she made no answer, nor took the least notice; but still sat like a statue in her chair,—a statue of melancholy and beauty. At last they led her away to her chamber.

We went to meeting this forenoon. I saw nothing remarkable, unless a little girl in the next pew to us, three or four years old, who fell asleep, with her head in the lap of her maid, and looked very pretty: a picture of sleeping innocence.

 

July 11th, Tuesday.—A drive with B——— to Hallowell, yesterday, where we dined, and afterwards to Gardiner. The most curious object in this latter place was the elegant new mansion of ———. It stands on the site of his former dwelling, which was destroyed by fire. The new building was estimated to cost about thirty thousand dollars; but twice as much has already been expended, and a great deal more will be required to complete it. It is certainly a splendid structure; the material, granite from the vicinity. At the angles it has small, circular towers; the portal is lofty and imposing. Relatively to the general style of domestic architecture in our country, it well deserves the name of castle or palace. Its situation, too, is fine, far retired from the public road, and attainable by a winding carriage-drive; standing amid fertile fields, and with large trees in the vicinity. There is also a beautiful view from the mansion adown the Kennebec.

Beneath some of the large trees we saw the remains of circular seats, whereupon the family used to sit before the former house was burned down. There was no one now in the vicinity of the place, save a man and a yoke of oxen; and what he was about, I did not ascertain. Mr. ——— at present resides in a small dwelling, little more than a cottage, beside the main road, not far from the gateway which gives access to his palace.

At Gardiner, on the wharf, I witnessed the starting of the steamboat New England for Boston. There was quite a collection of people, looking on or taking leave of passengers,—the steam puffing,—stages arriving, full-freighted with ladies and gentlemen. A man was one moment too late; but running along the gunwale of a mud-scow, and jumping into a skiff, he was put on board by a black fellow. The dark cabin, wherein, descending from the sunshiny deck, it was difficult to discern the furniture, looking-glasses, and mahogany wainscoting. I met two old college acquaintances,—O———, who was going to Boston, and B———, with whom we afterwards drank a glass of wine at the hotel.

B———, Mons. S———, and myself continue to live in the same style as heretofore. We appear mutually to be very well pleased with each other. Mons. S——— displays many comical qualities, and manages to insure us several hearty laughs every morning and evening,—those being the seasons when we meet. I am going to take lessons from him in the pronunciation of French. Of female society I see nothing. The only petticoat that comes within our premises appertains to Nancy, the pretty, dark-eyed maid-servant of the man who lives in the other part of the house.

On the road from Hallowell to Augusta we saw little booths, in two places, erected on the roadside, where boys offered beer, apples, etc., for sale. We passed an Irishwoman with a child in her arms, and a heavy bundle, and afterwards an Irishman with a light bundle, sitting by the highway. They were husband and wife; and B——— says that an Irishman and his wife, on their journeys, do not usually walk side by side, but that the man gives the woman the heaviest burden to carry, and walks on lightly ahead!

A thought comes into my mind: Which sort of house excites the most contemptuous feelings in the beholder,—such a house as Mr. ———'s, all circumstances considered, or the board-built and turf-buttressed hovels of these wild Irish, scattered about as if they had sprung up like mushrooms, in the dells and gorges, and along the banks of the river? Mushrooms, by the way, spring up where the roots of an old tree are hidden under the ground.

 

Thursday, July 13th.—Two small Canadian boys came to our house yesterday, with strawberries to sell. It sounds strange to hear children bargaining in French on the borders of Yankee-land. Among other languages spoken hereabouts must be reckoned the wild Irish. Some of the laborers on the mill-dam can speak nothing else. The intermixture of foreigners sometimes gives rise to quarrels between them and the natives. As we were going to the village yesterday afternoon, we witnessed the beginning of a quarrel between a Canadian and a Yankee,—the latter accusing the former of striking his oxen. B——— thrust himself between and parted them; but they afterwards renewed their fray, and the Canadian, I believe, thrashed the Yankee soundly,—for which he had to pay twelve dollars. Yet he was but a little fellow.

Coming to the Mansion-House about supper-time, we found somewhat of a concourse of people, the Governor and Council being in session on the subject of the disputed territory. The British have lately imprisoned a man who was sent to take the census; and the Mainiacs are much excited on the subject. They wish the Governor to order out the militia at once, and take possession of the territory with the strong hand. There was a British army-captain at the Mansion-House; and an idea was thrown out that it would be as well to seize upon him as a hostage. I would, for the joke's sake, that it had been done. Personages at the tavern: the Governor, somewhat stared after as he walked through the bar-room; Councillors seated about, sitting on benches near the bar, or on the stoop along the front of the house; the Adjutant-General of the State; two young Blue-Noses, from Canada or the Provinces; a gentleman "thumbing his hat" for liquor, or perhaps playing off the trick of the "honest landlord" on some stranger. The decanters and wine-bottles on the move, and the beer and soda-founts pouring out continual streams, with a whiz. Stage-drivers, etc., asked to drink with the aristocracy, and mine host treating and being treated. Rubicund faces; breaths odorous of brandy and water. Occasionally the pop of a champagne cork.

Returned home, and took a lesson in French of Mons. S———. I like him very much, and have seldom met with a more honest, simple, and apparently so well-principled a man; which good qualities I impute to his being, by the father's side, of German blood. He looks more like a German—or, as he says, like a Swiss—than a Frenchman, having very light hair and a light complexion, and not a French expression. He is a vivacious little fellow, and wonderfully excitable to mirth; and it is truly a sight to see him laugh;—every feature partakes of his movement, and even his whole body shares in it, as he rises and dances about the room. He has great variety of conversation, commensurate with his experiences in life, and sometimes will talk Spanish, ore rotundo,—sometimes imitate the Catholic priests, chanting Latin songs for the dead, in deep, gruff, awful tones, producing really a very strong impression,—then he will break out into a light, French song, perhaps of love, perhaps of war, acting it out, as if on the stage of a theatre: all this intermingled with continual fun, excited by the incidents of the passing moment. He has Frenchified all our names, calling B——— Monsieur Du Pont, myself M. de L'Aubépine, and himself M. le Berger, and all, Knights of the Round-Table. And we live in great harmony and brotherhood, as queer a life as anybody leads, and as queer a set as may be found anywhere. In his more serious intervals, he talks philosophy and deism, and preaches obedience to the law of reason and morality; which law he says (and I believe him) he has so well observed, that, notwithstanding his residence in dissolute countries, he has never yet been sinful. He wishes me, eight or nine weeks hence, to accompany him on foot to Quebec, and then to Niagara and New York. I should like it well, if my circumstances and other considerations would permit. What pleases much in Mons. S——— is the simple and childlike enjoyment he finds in trifles, and the joy with which he speaks of going back to his own country, away from the dull Yankees, who here misunderstand and despise him. Yet I have never heard him speak harshly of them. I rather think that B——— and I will be remembered by him with more pleasure than anybody else in the country; for we have sympathized with him, and treated him kindly, and like a gentleman and an equal; and he comes to us at night as to home and friends.

I went down to the river to-day to see B——— fish for salmon with a fly,—a hopeless business; for he says that only one instance has been known in the United States of salmon being taken otherwise than with a net. A few chubs were all the fruit of his piscatory efforts. But while looking at the rushing and rippling stream, I saw a great fish, some six feet long and thick in proportion, suddenly emerge at whole length, turn a somerset, and then vanish again beneath the water. It was of a glistening, yellowish brown, with its fins all spread, and looking very strange and startling, darting out so lifelike from the black water, throwing itself fully into the bright sunshine, and then lost to sight and to pursuit. I saw also a long, flat-bottomed boat go up the river, with a brisk wind, and against a strong stream. Its sails were of curious construction: a long mast, with two sails below, one on each side of the boat, and a broader one surmounting them. The sails were colored brown, and appeared like leather or skins, but were really cloth. At a distance, the vessel looked like, or at least I compared it to, a monstrous water-insect, skimming along the river. If the sails had been crimson or yellow, the resemblance would have been much closer. There was a pretty spacious raised cabin in the after part of the boat. It moved along lightly, and disappeared between the woody banks. These boats have the two parallel sails attached to the same yard, and some have two sails, one surmounting the other. They trade to Waterville and thereabouts,—names, as "Paul Pry," on their sails.

 

Saturday, July 15th.—Went with B——— yesterday to visit several Irish shanties, endeavoring to find out who had stolen some rails of a fence. At the first door where we knocked, (a shanty with an earthen mound heaped against the wall, two or three feet thick,) the inmates were not up, though it was past eight o'clock. At last a middle-aged woman showed herself, half-dressed, and completing her toilet. Threats were made of tearing down her house; for she is a lady of very indifferent morals, and sells rum. Few of these people are connected with the mill-dam,—or, at least, many are not so, but have intruded themselves into the vacant huts which were occupied by the mill-dam people last year. In two or three places hereabouts there is quite a village of these dwellings, with a clay and board chimney, or oftener an old barrel smoked and charred with the fire. Some of their roofs are covered with sods, and appear almost subterranean. One of the little hamlets stands on both sides of a deep dell, wooded and bush-grown, with a vista, as it were, into the heart of a wood in one direction, and to the broad, sunny river in the other: there was a little rivulet, crossed by a plank, at the bottom of the dell. At two doors we saw very pretty and modest-looking young women,—one with a child in her arms. Indeed, they all have innumerable little children; and they are invariably in good health, though always dirty of face. They come to the door while their mothers are talking with the visitors, standing straight up on their bare legs, with their little plump bodies protruding, in one hand a small tin saucepan and in the other an iron spoon, with unwashed mouths, looking as independent as any child or grown person in the land. They stare unabashed, but make no answer when spoken to. "I've no call to your fence, Misser B———." It seems strange that a man should have the right, unarmed with any legal instrument, of tearing down the dwelling-houses of a score of families, and driving the inmates forth without a shelter. Yet B——— undoubtedly has this right; and it is not a little striking to see how quietly these people contemplate the probability of his exercising it,—resolving, indeed, to burrow in their holes as long as may be, yet caring about as little for an ejectment as those who could find a tenement anywhere, and less. Yet the women, amid all the trials of their situation, appear to have kept up the distinction between virtue and vice: those who can claim the former will not associate with the latter. When the women travel with young children, they carry the baby slung at their backs, and sleeping quietly. The dresses of the new-comers are old-fashioned, making them look aged before their time.

Monsieur S——— shaving himself yesterday morning. He was in excellent spirits, and could not keep his tongue or body still more than long enough to make two or three consecutive strokes at his beard. Then he would turn, flourishing his razor and grimacing joyously, enacting droll antics, breaking out into scraps and verses of drinking-songs, "A boire! à boire!"—then laughing heartily, and crying, "Vive la gaîté!"—then resuming his task, looking into the glass with grave face, on which, however, a grin would soon break out anew, and all his pranks would be repeated with variations. He turned this foolery to philosophy, by observing that mirth contributed to goodness of heart, and to make us love our fellow-creatures. Conversing with him in the evening, he affirmed, with evident belief in the truth of what he said, that he would have no objection, except that it would be a very foolish thing, to expose his whole heart, his whole inner man, to the view of the world. Not that there would not be much evil discovered there; but, as he was conscious of being in a state of mental and moral improvement, working out his progress onward, he would not shrink from such a scrutiny. This talk was introduced by his mentioning the "Minister's Black Veil," which he said he had seen translated into French, as an exercise, by a Miss Appleton of Bangor.

Saw by the river-side, late in the afternoon, one of the above-described boats going into the stream, with the water rippling at the prow, from the strength of the current and of the boat's motion. By-and-by comes down a raft, perhaps twenty yards long, guided by two men, one at each end,—the raft itself of boards sawed at Waterville, and laden with square bundles of shingles and round bundles of clapboards. "Friend," says one man, "how is the tide now?"—this being important to the onward progress. They make fast to a tree, in order to wait for the tide to rise a little higher. It would be pleasant enough to float down the Kennebec on one of these rafts, letting the river conduct you onward at its own pace, leisurely displaying to you all the wild or ordered beauties along its banks, and perhaps running you aground in some peculiarly picturesque spot, for your longer enjoyment of it. Another object, perhaps, is a solitary man paddling himself down the river in a small canoe, the light, lonely touch of his paddle in the water making the silence seem deeper. Every few minutes a sturgeon leaps forth, sometimes behind you, so that you merely hear the splash, and, turning hastily around, see nothing but the disturbed water. Sometimes he darts straight on end out of a quiet black spot on which your eyes happen to be fixed, and, when even his tail is clear of the surface, he falls down on his side, and disappears.

On the river-bank, an Irishwoman washing some clothes, surrounded by her children, whose babbling sounds pleasantly along the edge of the shore; and she also answers in a sweet, kindly, and cheerful voice, though an immoral woman, and without the certainty of bread or shelter from day to day. An Irishman sitting angling on the brink with an alder pole and a clothes-line. At frequent intervals, the scene is suddenly broken by a loud report like thunder, rolling along the banks, echoing and reverberating afar. It is a blast of rocks. Along the margin, sometimes sticks of timber made fast, either separately or several together; stones of some size, varying the pebbles and sand; a clayey spot, where a shallow brook runs into the river, not with a deep outlet, but finding its way across the bank in two or three single runlets. Looking upward into the deep glen whence it issues, you see its shady current. Elsewhere, a high acclivity, with the beach between it and the river, the ridge broken and caved away, so that the earth looks fresh and yellow, and is penetrated by the nests of birds. An old, shining tree-trunk, half in and half out of the water. An island of gravel, long and narrow, in the centre of the river. Chips, blocks of wood, slabs, and other scraps of lumber, strewed along the beach; logs drifting down. The high bank covered with various trees and shrubbery, and, in one place, two or three Irish shanties.

 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.