In January Or February Come The Great Ice-Storms, When Every Branch,
Blade, And Trunk Is Coated With Frozen Rain, So That You Can Touch
The spikes of the pines are sunk into pear-shaped
crystals, and each fence-post is miraculously hilted with diamonds.
you bend a twig, the icing cracks like varnish, and a half-inch branch
snaps off at the lightest tap. If wind and sun open the day together,
the eye cannot look steadily at the splendour of this jewelry. The woods
are full of the clatter of arms; the ringing of bucks' horns in flight;
the stampede of mailed feet up and down the glades; and a great dust of
battle is puffed out into the open, till the last of the ice is beaten
away and the cleared branches take up their regular chant.
Again the mercury drops twenty and more below zero, and the very trees
swoon. The snow turns to French chalk, squeaking under the heel, and
their breath cloaks the oxen in rime. At night a tree's heart will break
in him with a groan. According to the books, the frost has split
something, but it is a fearful sound, this grunt as of a man stunned.
Winter that is winter in earnest does not allow cattle and horses to
play about the fields, so everything comes home; and since no share can
break ground to any profit for some five months, there would seem to be
very little to do. As a matter of fact, country interests at all seasons
are extensive and peculiar, and the day is not long enough for them when
you take out that time which a self-respecting man needs to turn himself
round in. Consider! The solid undisturbed hours stand about one like
ramparts. At a certain time the sun will rise. At another hour, equally
certain, he will set. This much we know. Why, in the name of Reason,
therefore, should we vex ourselves with vain exertions? An occasional
visitor from the Cities of the Plains comes up panting to do things. He
is set down to listen to the normal beat of his own heart - a sound that
very few men have heard. In a few days, when the lather of impatience
has dried off, he ceases to talk of 'getting there' or 'being left.' He
does not desire to accomplish matters 'right away,' nor does he look at
his watch from force of habit, but keeps it where it should be - in his
stomach. At the last he goes back to his beleaguered city, unwillingly,
partially civilised, soon to be resavaged by the clash of a thousand
wars whose echo does not reach here.
The air which kills germs dries out the very newspapers. They might be
of to-morrow or a hundred years ago. They have nothing to do with
to-day - the long, full, sunlit to-day. Our interests are not on the same
scale as theirs, perhaps, but much more complex. The movement of a
foreign power - an alien sleigh on this Pontic shore - must be explained
and accounted for, or this public's heart will burst with unsatisfied
curiosity. If it be Buck Davis, with the white mare that he traded his
colt for, and the practically new sleigh-robe that he bought at the
Sewell auction, why does Buck Davis, who lives on the river flats,
cross our hills, unless Murder Hollow be blockaded with snow, or unless
he has turkeys for sale? But Buck Davis with turkeys would surely
have stopped here, unless he were selling a large stock in town. A wail
from the sacking at the back of the sleigh tells the tale. It is a
winter calf, and Buck Davis is going to sell it for one dollar to the
Boston Market where it will be turned into potted chicken. This leaves
the mystery of his change of route unexplained. After two days' sitting
on tenter-hooks it is discovered, obliquely, that Buck went to pay a
door-yard call on Orson Butler, who lives on the saeter where the wind
and the bald granite scaurs fight it out together. Kirk Demming had
brought Orson news of a fox at the back of Black Mountain, and Orson's
eldest son, going to Murder Hollow with wood for the new barn floor that
the widow Amidon is laying down, told Buck that he might as well come
round to talk to his father about the pig. But old man Butler meant
fox-hunting from the first, and what he wanted to do was to borrow
Buck's dog, who had been duly brought over with the calf, and left on
the mountain. No old man Butler did not go hunting alone, but waited
till Buck came back from town. Buck sold the calf for a dollar and a
quarter and not for seventy-five cents as was falsely asserted by
interested parties. Then the two went after the fox together. This
much learned, everybody breathes freely, if life has not been
complicated in the meantime by more strange counter-marchings.
Five or six sleighs a day we can understand, if we know why they are
abroad; but any metropolitan rush of traffic disturbs and excites.
LETTERS TO THE FAMILY
These letters appeared in newspapers during the spring of 1908, after a
trip to Canada undertaken in the autumn of 1907. They are now reprinted
THE ROAD TO QUEBEC.
A PEOPLE AT HOME.
CITIES AND SPACES.
NEWSPAPERS AND DEMOCRACY.
THE FORTUNATE TOWNS.
MOUNTAINS AND THE PACIFIC.
* * * * *
THE ROAD TO QUEBEC
It must be hard for those who do not live there to realise the cross
between canker and blight that has settled on England for the last
couple of years. The effects of it are felt throughout the Empire, but
at headquarters we taste the stuff in the very air, just as one tastes
iodoform in the cups and bread-and-butter of a hospital-tea.
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