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- The Long Ago - 2/6 -


The banks of the river were a deep and silent jungle wherein all manner of wild beasts and birds were hunted; its bosom was the vasty deep out upon which our cherished argosies were sent. And how often their prows were unexpectedly turned by some new current into mid-stream; sometimes saved by an assortment of missiles breathlessly thrown to the far side, to bring them, wave-washed, back to us; sometimes, alas, swept mercilessly out to depths where only the eye and childish grief could follow them over the big dam to certain wreckage in the whirlpools below, but even then not abandoned until the shore had been patrolled for salvage as far as courage held out.

Let's go back to the banks of our beloved river, you and I - and get up early in the morning and run to the riffles near the old cooper-shop and catch a bucket of shiners and chubs, and then hurry on to Boomer's dam - or 'way upstream above the Island where we used to have the Sunday-school picnics - or, maybe just stay at the in-town dam near the flour mills and the saw-mills where old Shoemaker Schmidt used to catch so many big ones - fat, yellow pike and broad black-bass. We will climb high up on the mist-soaked timbers of the mill-race and settle ourselves contentedly with the spray moistening our faces and the warm sun browning our hands - and the heavy pounding of falling waters sounding in our ears so melodiously and so sweetly. Lazily, drowsily we'll hold a bamboo pole and guide out shiner through the foam-crowned eddies of the whirlpool, awaiting the flash of a golden side or a lusty tug at the line; and dreamily watch a long, narrow stream of shavings and sawdust, loosed from the opposite planing-mill, float away on the current. And here, in the dear dream-days, the conquering of the world will be a simple matter; for through the mist-prisms that rise from the foaming waters below the dam only rainbows can be seen - and there is Youth and the Springtime, and the new-born flowers and mating birds, and The River. . . .

And when the sun is low we'll wind our poles, at the end of a rare and great day - one that cannot die with the sunset, but that will live so long as Memory is. Tonight we need not trudge over the fields toward home, in happy weariness, to Her who waited and watched for us at the window, peering through the gathering dusk until the anxious heart was stilled by the sight of tired little legs dragging down the street past the postoffice. We'll stay here in the twilight, and watch the fire-flies light their fitful lamps, and the first stars blinking through the afterglow; and when the night drops down see the black bats careening weirdly across the moon. . . . And we'll stretch out again on the wild grass - soothed by the fragrance of the Mayapple and the violets, and the touch of the night-wind. . . How still it is . . . and The River doesn't seem to sound so loud when your head's on the ground - and your eyes are closed - and you're listening to the far, far, far-off lullaby of tumbling waters - and you're a bit tired, Perhaps . . . a bit tired. . . .

-

The Winter Stream

Somehow The River never terrified me.

(It did mother, however!)

Perhaps it brought no fear to me because it flowed so gently and so helpfully through such a wonderful valley of Peace and Plenty. Even in its austere winter aspect, with its tree-banks bare of leaves and its snow-and-ice-bound setting, it rejoiced me.

Teams of big horses and wagons and scores of men, worked busily upon its frozen surface, sawing and cutting and packing ice in the big wooden houses along the banks.

Always there was enough wind for an ice-boat or a skate-sail, or to send a fellow swiftly along when mother-made promises were forgotten and an unbuttoned coat was held outstretched to catch the breeze.

At night the torches and bonfires flickered and glowed where the skaters sent the merry noises of their revelry afloat through the crisp air as they dodged steel-footed in and out among the huts of the winter fishermen.

Perhaps I loved the winter river because I knew that beneath its forbidding surface there was the life of my loved lilies, and because I knew that all in good time the real river - our river - would be restored to us again, alive and joyous and unchanged.

One day, when first the tiny rivulets started to run from the bottom of the snow-drifts, The River suddenly unloosed its artillery and the crisp air reechoed with the booming that proclaimed the breaking-up of the ice. Great crowds of people thronged the banks, wondering if the bridge would go out or would stand the strain of pounding icecakes. The unmistakable note of a robin sounded from somewhere. Great dark spots began to show in the white ice-ribbon that wound through the valley. The air at sundown had lost its sting.

So day by day the breaking-up continued until at last the blessed stream was clear - the bass jumped hungry to the fly - the daffodils and violets sprang from beneath their wet leaf-blankets - and all the world joined the birds in one grand song of emancipation and joy.

-

The Big Bend

Above the town, just beyond the red iron bridge, the river made a great bend and widened into a lake where the banks were willow-grown, and reeds and rushes and grasses and lily-pads pushed far out into mid-stream, leaving only a narrow channel of clear water.

To the Big Bend our canoe glided often, paddling lazily along and going far up-stream to drift back with the current.

Arms bared to the shoulder, we reached deep beneath the surface to bring up the long-stemmed water-lilies - the great white blossoms, and the queer little yellow-and-black ones.

Like a blight-eyed sprite the tiny marsh-wren flitted among the rushes, and the musk-rat built strange reed-castles at the water's edge.

The lace-winged dragon-fly following our boat darted from side to side, or poised in air, or alighted on the dripping blade of our paddle when it rested for a moment across our knees.

Among the grasses the wind-harps played weird melodies which only Boyhood could interpret.

In this place The River sang its love-songs, and sent forth an answering note to the vast harmonious blending of blue sky and golden day and incense-heavy air and the glad songs of birds.

And here at this tranquil bend The River seemed to be the self-same river of the old, loved hymn we sang so often in the Little Church With The White Steeple - that river which "flows by the throne of God"; fulfilling the promise of the ancient prophet of prophets and bringing "peace . . . like a river, and glory . . . like a flowing stream."

Christmas

We always used grandmother's stocking - because it was the biggest one in the family, much larger than mother's, and somehow it seemed able to stretch more than hers. There was so much room in the foot, too - a chance for all sorts of packages.

There was a carpet-covered couch against the flowered wall in one corner of the parlor. Between the foot of it and the chimney, was the door into our bedroom. I always hung my stocking at the side of the door nearest the couch, on the theory, well-defined in my mind with each recurring Christmas, that if by any chance Santa Claus brought me more than he could get into the stocking, he could pile the overflow on the couch. And he always did!

It may seem strange that a lad who seldom heard even the third getting-up call in the morning should have awakened without any calling once a year - or that his red-night-gowned figure should have leaped from the depths of his feather bed - or that he should have crept breathless and fearful to the door where the stocking hung. Notwithstanding the ripe experience of years past, when each Christmas found the generous stocking stuffed with good things, there was always the chance that Santa Claus might have forgotten, this year - or that he might have miscalculated his supply and not have enough to go 'round - or that he had not been correctly informed as to just what you wanted - or that some accident, might have befallen his reindeer-and-sleigh to detain him until the grey dawn of Christmas morning stopped his work and sent him scurrying back to his toy kingdom to await another Yule-tide.

And so, in the fearful silence and darkness of that early hour, with stilled breath and heart beating so loudly you thought it would awaken everyone in the house, You softly opened the door - poked your arm through - felt around where the stocking ought to be, but with a great sinking in your heart when you didn't find it the first time - and finally your chubby fist clutched the misshapen, lumpy, bulging fabric that proclaimed a generous Santa Claus.

Yes, it was there!

That was enough for the moment. A hurried climb back into the warm bed - and then interminable years of waiting until your attuned ear caught the first sounds of grandmother's dressing in her nearby bedroom, and the first gleam of winter daylight permitted you to see the wondrous stocking and the array of packages on the sofa. It was beyond human strength to refrain from just one look. But alas! The sight of a dapple-grey rocking-horse with silken mane and flowing tail was too much, and the next moment you were in the room with your arms around his arched neck, while peals of unrestrained joy brought the whole family to the scene. Then it was that mother gathered you into her lap, and wrapped her skirt about your bare legs, and held your trembling form tight in her arms until you promised to get dressed if they would open just one package - the big one on the end of the sofa. After that there was always "just one more, please!" and by that time the base burner was warming up and you were on the floor in the middle of the discarded wrapping-paper, uncovering each wonderous package down to the very last - the very, very last - in the very toe of the stocking - the big round one that you were sure was a real league ball but proved to be nothing but an orange! . . .

No Santa Claus? Huh! . . .

If there isn't any Santa Claus, what does he put all the sample toys in


The Long Ago - 2/6

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