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- BACK HOME - 10/31 -


Nature begins to buzz. It may snow and blow, and winter may seem to have settled in in earnest, but deep down in the earth, the root-tips, where lie the brains of vegetables, are gaping and stretching, and ho-humming, and wishing they could snooze a little longer. When it thaws in the afternoon and freezes up at sunset as tight as bricks, they tell me that out in the sugar-camp there are great doings. I don't know about it myself, but I have heard tell of boring a hole in the maple-tree, and sticking in a spout, and setting a bucket to catch the, drip, and collecting the sap, and boiling down, and sugaring off. I have heard tell of taffy-pullings, and how Joe Hendricks stuck a whole gob of maple-wax in Sally Miller's hair, and how she got even with him by rubbing his face with soot. It is only hearsay with me, but I'll tell you what I have done: I have eaten real maple sugar, and nearly pulled out every tooth I had in my head with maple-wax, and I have even gone so far as to have maple syrup on pancakes. It's good, too. The maple syrup came on the table in a sort of a glass flagon with a metal lid to it, and it was considered the height of bad manners to lick off the last drop of syrup that hung on the nose of the flagon. And yet it must not be allowed to drip on the table-cloth. It is a pity we can't get any more maple syrup nowadays, but I don't feel so bad about the loss of it, as I do to think what awful liars people can be, declaring on the label that 'deed and double, 'pon their word and honor, it is pure, genuine, unadulterated maple syrup, when they know just as well as they know anything that it is only store-sugar boiled up with maple chips.

Along about the same time, the boys come home with a ring of mud around their mouths, and exhaling spicy breaths like those which blow o'er Ceylon's isle in the hymn-book. They bear a bundle of roots, whose thick, pink hide mother whittles off with the butcher-knife and sets to steep. Put away the store tea and coffee. To-night as we drink the reddish aromatic brew we return, not only to our own young days, but to the young days of the nation when our folks moved to the West in a covered wagon; when grandpap, only a little boy then, about as big as Charley there, got down the rifle and killed the bear that had climbed into the hog-pen; when they found old Cherry out in the timber with her calf between her legs, and two wolves lying where she had horned them to death - we return to-night to the high, heroic days of old, when our forefathers conquered the wilderness and our foremothers reared the families that peopled it. This cup of sassafras to-night in their loving memory! Earth, rest easy on their moldering bones!

Some there be that still take stock in the groundhog. I don't believe he knows anything about it. And I believe that any animal that had the sense that he is reputed to have would not have remained a mere ground-hog all these years. At least not in this country. Anyhow, it's a long ways ahead, six weeks is, especially at the time when you do wish so fervently that it would come spring. We keep on shoveling coal in the furnace, and carrying out ashes, and longing and crying: "Oh, for pity's sakes! When is this going to stop?" And then, one morning, we awaken with a start Wha - what? Sh! Keep still, can't you? There is a more canorous and horn-like quality to the crowing of Gildersleeve's rooster, and his hens chant cheerily as they kick the litter about. But it wasn't these cheerful sounds that wakened us with a start. There! Hear that? Hear it? Two or three long-drawn, reedy notes, and an awkward boggle at a trill, but oh, how sweet! How sweet! It is the song-sparrow, blessed bird! It won't be long now; it won't be long.

The snow fort in the back-yard still sulks there black and dirty. "I'll go when I get good and ready, and not before," it seems to say. Other places the thinner snow has departed and left behind it mud that seizes upon your overshoe with an "Oh, what's your rush?" In the middle of the road it lies as smooth as pancake-batter. A load of building stone stalls, and people gather on the sidewalk to tell the teamster quietly and unostentatiously that he ought to have had more sense than to pile it on like that with the roads the way they are. Every time the cruel whip comes down and the horses dance under it, the women peering out of the front windows wince, and cluck "Tchk! Ain't it terrible? He ought to be arrested." This way and that the team turns and tugs, but all in vain. Somebody puts on his rubber boots and wades out to help, fearing not the muddy spokes. Yo hee! Yo hee! No use. He talks it over with the teamster. You can hear him say: "Well, suit yourself. If you want to stay here all night."

And then the women exult: "Goody! Goody! Serves him right. Now he has to take off some of the stone. Lazy man's load!"

The mother of children flies to the back-door when school lets out. "Don't you come in here with all that mud!" she squalls excitedly. "Look at you! A peck o' dirt on each foot. Right in my nice clean kitchen that I just scrubbed. Go 'long now and clean your shoes. Go 'long, I tell you. Slave and slave for you and that's all the thanks I get. You'd keep the place looking like a hogpen, if I wasn't at you all the time. I never saw such young ones since the day I was made. Never. Whoopin' and hollerin' and trackin' in and out. It's enough to drive a body crazy."

(Don't you care. It's just her talk. If it isn't one thing it's another, cleaning your shoes, or combing your hair, or brushing your clothes, or using your handkerchief, or shutting the door softly, or holding your spoon with your fingers and not in your fist, or keeping your finger out of your glass when you drink - something the whole blessed time. Forever and eternally picking at a fellow about something. And saying the same thing over and over so many times. That's the worst of it!)

Pap and mother read over the seed catalogues, all about "warm, light soils," and "hardy annuals," and "sow in drills four inches apart." It kind of hurries things along when you do that. In the south window of the kitchen is a box full of black dirt in which will you look out what you're doing? Little more and you'd have upset it. There are tomato seeds in that, I'll have you know. Oh, yes, government seeds. Somebody sends 'em, I don't know who. Congressman, I guess, whoever he is. I don't pretend to keep track of 'em. And say. When was this watered last? There it is. Unless I stand over you every minute - My land! If there's anything done about this house I've got to do it.

Between the days when it can't make up its mind whether to snow or to rain, and tries to do both at once, comes a day when it is warm enough (almost) to go without an overcoat. The Sunday following you can hardly hear what the preacher has to say for the whooping and barking. The choir members have cough drops in their cheeks when they stand up to sing, and everybody stops in at the drug store with: "Say, Doc, what's good for a cold?"

Eggs have come down. Yesterday they were nine for a quarter; to-day they're ten. Gildersleeve wants a dollar for a setting of eggs, but he'll let you have the same number of eggs for thirty cents if you'll wait till he can run a needle into each one. So afraid you'll raise chickens of your own.

Excited groups gather about rude circles scratched in the mud, and there is talk of "pureys," and "reals," and "aggies," and "commies," and "fen dubs!" There is a rich click about the bulging pockets of the boys, and every so often in school time something drops on the floor and rolls noisily across the room. When Miss Daniels asks: "Who did that?" the boys all look so astonished. Who did what, pray tell? And when she picks up a marble and inquires: "Whose is this?" nobody can possibly imagine whose it might be, least of all the boy whose most highly-prized shooter it is. At this season of the year, too, there is much serious talk as to the exceeding sinfulness of "playing for keeps." The little boys, in whose thumbs lingers the weakness of the arboreal ape, their ancestor, and who "poke" their marbles, drink in eagerly the doctrine that when you win a marble you ought to give it back, but the hard-eyed fellows, who can plunk it every time, sit there and let it go in one ear and out the other, there being a hole drilled through expressly for the purpose. What? Give up the rewards of skill? Ah, g'wan!

The girls, even to those who have begun to turn their hair up under, are turning the rope and dismally chanting: "All in together, pigs in the meadow, nineteen twenty, leave the rope empty," or whatever the rune is.

It won't be long now. It won't be long.

"For lo; the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines, with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise my love, my fair one and come away."

THE SONG OF SOLOMON.

Out in the woods the leaves that rustled so bravely when we shuffled our feet through them last fall are sodden and matted. It is warm in the woods, for the sun strikes down through the bare branches, and the cold wind is fended off. The fleshy lances of the spring beauty have stabbed upward through the mulch, and a tiny cup, delicately veined with pink, hangs its head bashfully. Anemones on brown wire stems aspire without a leaf, and in moist patches are May pinks, the trailing arbutus of the grown-ups. As we carry home a bunch, the heads all lopping every way like the heads of strangled babies, we can almost hear behind us in the echoing forests a long, heart-broken moan, as of Rachel mourning for her children, and will not be comforted because they are not. The wild flowers don't look so pretty in the tin cups of water as they did back in the woods. There is something cheap and common about them. Throw 'em out. The poor plants that planned through all the ages how to attract the first smart insects of the season, and trick them into setting the seeds for next years' flowers did not reckon that these very means whereby they hoped to rear a family would prove their undoing at the hands of those who plume themselves a little on their refinement, they "are so fond of flowers."

Old Winter hates to give up that he is beaten. It's a funny thing, but when you hear a person sing, "Good-a-by, Summer, good-a-by, good-a-by," you always feel kind of sad and sorry. It's going, the time of year when you can stay out of doors most of the time, when you can go in swimming, and the Sunday-school picnic, and the circus, and play base-ball and camp out, and there's no school, and everything nice, and watermelons, and all like that. Good-by, good-by, and you begin to sniff a little. The departure of summer is dignified and even splendid, but the earth looks so sordid and draggle-trailed when winter goes, that onions could not bring a tear. Old winter likes to tease. Aha! You thought I was gone, did you? Not yet, my child, not yet!" And he sends us huckleberry-colored clouds from the northwest, from which snow-flakes big as copper cents solemnly waggle down, as if they really expected the schoolboy to shout: "It snows! Hurrah!" and makes his shout heard through parlor and hall. But they only leave a few dark freckles on the garden beds. Alas, yes! There is no light without its shadow, no joy without its sorrow tagging after. It isn't all marbles and play


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