The next whose fortune 'twas a tale to tell Was one whom men, before they thought, loved well, And after thinking wondered why they did, For half he seemed to let them, half forbid, And wrapped him so in humors, sheath on sheath, 'Twas hard to guess the mellow soul beneath: But, once divined, you took him to your heart, While he appeared to bear with you as part Of life's impertinence, and once a year Betrayed his true self by a smile or tear, Or rather something sweetly shy and loath, Withdrawn ere fully shown, and mixed of both. A cynic? Not precisely: one who thrust Against a heart too prone to love and trust, Who so despised false sentiment he knew Scarce in himself to part the false and true, And strove to hide, by roughening-o'er the skin, Those cobweb nerves he could not dull within. Gentle by birth, but of a stem decayed, He shunned life's rivalries and hated trade; On a small patrimony and larger pride, He lived uneaseful on the Other Side (So he called Europe), only coming West To give his Old-World appetite new zest; Yet still the New World spooked it in his veins, A ghost he could not lay with all his pains; For never Pilgrims' offshoot scapes control Of those old instincts that have shaped his soul. A radical in thought, he puffed away With shrewd contempt the dust of usage gray, Yet loathed democracy as one who saw, In what he longed to love, some vulgar flaw, And, shocked through all his delicate reserves, Remained a Tory by his taste and nerves, His fancy's thrall, he drew all ergoes thence, And thought himself the type of common sense; Misliking women, not from cross or whim, But that his mother shared too much in him, And he half felt that what in them was grace Made the unlucky weakness of his race. What powers he had he hardly cared to know, But sauntered through the world as through a show; A critic fine in his haphazard way, A sort of mild La Bruyere on half-pay. For comic weaknesses he had an eye Keen as an acid for an alkali, Yet you could feel, through his sardonic tone, He loved them all, unless they were his own. You might have called him, with his humorous twist, A kind of human entomologist; As these bring home, from every walk they take, Their hat-crowns stuck with bugs of curious make, So he filled all the lining of his head With characters impaled and ticketed, And had a cabinet behind his eyes For all they caught of mortal oddities. He might have been a poet--many worse-- But that he had, or feigned, contempt of verse; Called it tattooing language, and held rhymes The young world's lullaby of ruder times. Bitter in words, too indolent for gall, He satirized himself the first of all, In men and their affairs could find no law, And was the ill logic that he thought he saw.
Scratching a match to light his pipe anew, With eyes half shut some musing whiffs he drew And thus began: 'I give you all my word, I think this mock-Decameron absurd; Boccaccio's garden! how bring that to pass In our bleak clime save under double glass? The moral east-wind of New England life Would snip its gay luxuriance like a knife; Mile-deep the glaciers brooded here, they say, Through aeons numb; we feel their chill to-day. These foreign plants are but half-hardy still, Die on a south, and on a north wall chill. Had we stayed Puritans! _They_ had some heat, (Though whence derived I have my own conceit,) But you have long ago raked up their fires; Where they had faith, you've ten sham-Gothic spires. Why more exotics? Try your native vines, And in some thousand years you _may_ have wines; Your present grapes are harsh, all pulps and skins, And want traditions of ancestral bins That saved for evenings round the polished board Old lava fires, the sun-steeped hillside's hoard. Without a Past, you lack that southern wall O'er which the vines of Poesy should crawl; Still they're your only hope: no midnight oil Makes up for virtue wanting in the soil; Manure them well and prune them; 'twon't be France, Nor Spain, nor Italy, but there's your chance. You have one story-teller worth a score Of dead Boccaccios,--nay, add twenty more,-- A hawthorn asking spring's most dainty breath, And him you're freezing pretty well to death. However, since you say so, I will tease My memory to a story by degrees, Though you will cry, "Enough!" I'm wellnigh sure, Ere I have dreamed through half my overture. Stories were good for men who had no books, (Fortunate race!) and built their nests like rooks In lonely towers, to which the Jongleur brought His pedler's-box of cheap and tawdry thought, With here and there a fancy fit to see Wrought in quaint grace in golden filigree,-- Some ring that with the Muse's finger yet Is warm, like Aucassin and Nicolete; The morning newspaper has spoilt his trade, (For better or for worse, I leave unsaid,) And stories now, to suit a public nice, Must be half epigram, half pleasant vice.
'All tourists know Shebagog County: there The summer idlers take their yearly stare, Dress to see Nature In a well-bred way, As 'twere Italian opera, or play, Encore the sunrise (if they're out of bed). And pat the Mighty Mother on the head: These have I seen,--all things are good to see.-- And wondered much at their complacency. This world's great show, that took in getting-up Millions of years, they finish ere they sup; Sights that God gleams through with soul-tingling force They glance approvingly as things of course. Say, "That's a grand rock," "This a pretty fall." Not thinking, "Are we worthy?" What if all The scornful landscape should turn round and say, "This is a fool, and that a popinjay"? I often wonder what the Mountain thinks Of French boots creaking o'er his breathless brinks, Or how the Sun would scare the chattering crowd, If some fine day he chanced to think aloud. I, who love Nature much as sinners can, Love her where she most grandeur shows,--in man: Here find I mountain, forest, cloud, and sun, River and sea, and glows when day is done; Nay, where she makes grotesques, and moulds in jest The clown's cheap clay, I find unfading zest. The natural instincts year by year retire, As deer shrink northward from the settler's fire, And he who loves the wild game-flavor more Than city-feasts, where every man's a bore To every other man, must seek it where The steamer's throb and railway's iron blare Have not yet startled with their punctual stir The shy, wood-wandering brood of Character.
'There is a village, once the county town, Through which the weekly mail rolled dustily down, Where the courts sat, it may be, twice a year, And the one tavern reeked with rustic cheer; Cheeshogquesumscot erst, now Jethro hight, Red-man and pale-face bore it equal spite. The railway ruined it, the natives say, That passed unwisely fifteen miles away, And made a drain to which, with steady ooze, Filtered away law, stage-coach, trade, and news. The railway saved it: so at least think those Who love old ways, old houses, old repose. Of course the Tavern stayed: its genial host Thought not of flitting more than did the post On which high-hung the fading signboard creaks, Inscribed, "The Eagle Inn, by Ezra Weeks."
'If in life's journey you should ever find An inn medicinal for body and mind, 'Tis sure to be some drowsy-looking house Whose easy landlord has a bustling spouse: He, if he like you, will not long forego Some bottle deep in cobwebbed dust laid low, That, since the War we used to call the "Last," Has dozed and held its lang-syne memories fast: From him exhales that Indian-summer air Of hazy, lazy welcome everywhere, While with her toil the napery is white, The china dustless, the keen knife-blades bright, Salt dry as sand, and bread that seems as though 'Twere rather sea-foam baked than vulgar dough.
'In our swift country, houses trim and white Are pitched like tents, the lodging of a night; Each on its bank of baked turf mounted high Perches impatient o'er the roadside dry, While the wronged landscape coldly stands aloof, Refusing friendship with the upstart roof. Not so the Eagle; on a grass-green swell That toward the south with sweet concessions fell It dwelt retired, and half had grown to be As aboriginal as rock or tree. It nestled close to earth, and seemed to brood O'er homely thoughts in a half-conscious mood, As by the peat that rather fades than burns The smouldering grandam nods and knits by turns, Happy, although her newest news were old Ere the first hostile drum at Concord rolled. If paint it e'er had known, it knew no more Than yellow lichens spattered thickly o'er That soft lead-gray, less dark beneath the eaves Which the slow brush of wind and weather leaves. The ample roof sloped backward to the ground, And vassal lean-tos gathered thickly round, Patched on, as sire or son had felt the need, Like chance growths sprouting from the old roofs seed, Just as about a yellow-pine-tree spring Its rough-barked darlings in a filial ring. But the great chimney was the central thought Whose gravitation through the cluster wrought; For 'tis not styles far-fetched from Greece or Rome, But just the Fireside, that can make a home; None of your spindling things of modern style, Like pins stuck through to stay the card-built pile, It rose broad-shouldered, kindly, debonair, Its warm breath whitening in the October air, While on its front a heart in outline showed The place it filled in that serene abode.
'When first I chanced the Eagle to explore. Ezra sat listless by the open door; One chair careened him at an angle meet, Another nursed his hugely slippered feet; Upon a third reposed a shirt-sleeved arm, And the whole man diffused tobacco's charm. "Are you the landlord?" "Wahl, I guess I be," Watching the smoke he answered leisurely. He was a stoutish man, and through the breast Of his loose shirt there showed a brambly chest; Streaked redly as a wind-foreboding morn, His tanned cheeks curved to temples closely shorn; Clean-shaved he was, save where a hedge of gray Upon his brawny throat leaned every way About an Adam's-apple, that beneath Bulged like a boulder from a brambly heath. The Western World's true child and nursling he, Equipt with aptitudes enough for three: No eye like his to value horse or cow, Or gauge the contents of a stack or mow; He could foretell the weather at a word, He knew the haunt of every beast and bird, Or where a two-pound trout was sure to lie, Waiting the flutter of his homemade fly; Nay, once in autumns five, he had the luck To drop at fair-play range a ten-tined buck; Of sportsmen true he favored every whim, But never cockney found a guide in him; A natural man, with all his instincts fresh, Not buzzing helpless in Reflection's mesh, Firm on its feet stood his broad-shouldered mind, As bluffly honest as a northwest wind; Hard-headed and soft-hearted, you'd scarce meet A kindlier mixture of the shrewd and sweet; Generous by birth, and ill at saying "No," Yet in a bargain he was all men's foe, Would yield no inch of vantage in a trade, And give away ere nightfall all he made.
"Can I have lodging here?" once more I said. He blew a whiff, and, leaning back his head, "You come a piece through Bailey's woods, I s'pose, Acrost a bridge where a big swamp-oak grows? It don't grow, neither; it's ben dead ten year, Nor th' ain't a livin' creetur, fur nor near, Can tell wut killed it; but I some misdoubt 'Twas borers, there's sech heaps on 'em about. You didn' chance to run ag'inst my son, A long, slab-sided youngster with a gun? He'd oughto ben back more 'n an hour ago, An' brought some birds to dress for supper--sho! There he comes now. 'Say, Obed, wut ye got? (He'll hev some upland plover like as not.) Wal, them's real nice uns, an'll eat A , Ef I can stop their bein' overdone; Nothin' riles _me_ (I pledge my fastin' word) Like cookin' out the natur' of a bird; (Obed, you pick 'em out o' sight an' sound, Your ma'am don't love no feathers cluttrin' round Jes' scare 'em with the coals,--thet's _my_ idee." Then, turning suddenly about on me, "Wal, Square, I guess so. Callilate to stay? I'll ask Mis' Weeks; 'bout _thet_ it's hern to say."
'Well, there I lingered all October through, In that sweet atmosphere of hazy blue, So leisurely, so soothing, so forgiving, That sometimes makes New England fit for living. I watched the landscape, erst so granite glum, Bloom like the south side of a ripening plum, And each rock-maple on the hillside make His ten days' sunset doubled in the lake; The very stone walls draggling up the hills Seemed touched, and wavered in their roundhead wills. Ah! there's a deal of sugar in the sun! Tap me in Indian summer, I should run A juice to make rock-candy of,--but then We get such weather scarce one year in ten.
'There was a parlor in the house, a room To make you shudder with its prudish gloom. The furniture stood round with such an air, There seemed an old maid's ghost in every chair, Which looked as it had scuttled to its place And pulled extempore a Sunday face, Too smugly proper for a world of sin, Like boys on whom the minister comes in. The table, fronting you with icy stare, Strove to look witless that its legs were bare, While the black sofa with its horse-hair pall Gloomed like a bier for Comfort's funeral. Each piece appeared to do its chilly best To seem an utter stranger to the rest, As if acquaintanceship were deadly sin, Like Britons meeting in a foreign inn. Two portraits graced the wall in grimmest truth, Mister and Mistress W. in their youth,-- New England youth, that seems a sort of pill, Half wish-I-dared, half Edwards on the Will, Bitter to swallow, and which leaves a trace Of Calvinistic colic on the face. Between them, o'er the mantel, hung in state Solomon's temple, done in copperplate; Invention pure, but meant, we may presume, To give some Scripture sanction to the room. Facing this last, two samplers you might see, Each, with its urn and stiffly weeping tree, Devoted to some memory long ago More faded than their lines of worsted woe; Cut paper decked their frames against the flies, Though none e'er dared an entrance who were wise, And bushed asparagus in fading green Added its shiver to the franklin clean.
'When first arrived, I chilled a half-hour there, Nor dared deflower with use a single chair; I caught no cold, yet flying pains could find For weeks in me,--a rheumatism of mind. One thing alone imprisoned there had power To hold me in the place that long half-hour: A scutcheon this, a helm-surmounted shield, Three griffins argent on a sable field; A relic of the shipwrecked past was here, And Ezra held some Old-World lumber dear. Nay, do not smile; I love this kind of thing, These cooped traditions with a broken wing, This freehold nook in Fancy's pipe-blown ball, This less than nothing that is more than all! Have I not seen sweet natures kept alive Amid the humdrum of your business hive, Undowered spinsters shielded from all harms, By airy incomes from a coat of arms?'
He paused a moment, and his features took The flitting sweetness of that inward look I hinted at before; but, scarcely seen, It shrank for shelter 'neath his harder mien, And, rapping his black pipe of ashes clear, He went on with a self-derisive sneer: 'No doubt we make a part of God's design, And break the forest-path for feet divine; To furnish foothold for this grand prevision Is good, and yet--to be the mere transition, That, you will say, is also good, though I Scarce like to feed the ogre By-and-By. Raw edges rasp my nerves; my taste is wooed By things that are, not going to be, good, Though were I what I dreamed two lustres gone, I'd stay to help the Consummation on, Whether a new Rome than the old more fair, Or a deadflat of rascal-ruled despair; But _my_ skull somehow never closed the suture That seems to knit yours firmly with the future, So you'll excuse me if I'm sometimes fain To tie the Past's warm nightcap o'er my brain; I'm quite aware 'tis not in fashion here, But then your northeast winds are _so_ severe!
'But to my story: though 'tis truly naught But a few hints in Memory's sketchbook caught, And which may claim a value on the score Of calling back some scenery now no more. Shall I confess? The tavern's only Lar Seemed (be not shocked!) its homely-featured bar. Here dozed a fire of beechen logs, that bred Strange fancies in its embers golden-red, And nursed the loggerhead whose hissing dip, Timed by nice instinct, creamed the mug of flip That made from mouth to mouth its genial round, Nor left one nature wholly winter-bound; Hence dropt the tinkling coal all mellow-ripe For Uncle Reuben's talk-extinguished pipe; Hence rayed the heat, as from an indoor sun, That wooed forth many a shoot of rustic fun. Here Ezra ruled as king by right divine; No other face had such a wholesome shine, No laugh like his so full of honest cheer; Above the rest it crowed like Chanticleer.
'In this one room his dame you never saw, Where reigned by custom old a Salic law; Here coatless lolled he on his throne of oak, And every tongue paused midway if he spoke. Due mirth he loved, yet was his sway severe; No blear-eyed driveller got his stagger here; "Measure was happiness; who wanted more, Must buy his ruin at the Deacon's store;" None but his lodgers after ten could stay, Nor after nine on eves of Sabbath-day. He had his favorites and his pensioners, The same that gypsy Nature owns for hers: Loose-ended souls, whose skills bring scanty gold, And whom the poor-house catches when they're old; Rude country-minstrels, men who doctor kine, Or graft, and, out of scions ten, save nine; Creatures of genius they, but never meant To keep step with the civic regiment, These Ezra welcomed, feeling in his mind Perhaps some motions of the vagrant kind; These paid no money, yet for them he drew Special Jamaica from a tap they knew, And, for their feelings, chalked behind the door With solemn face a visionary score. This thawed to life in Uncle Reuben's throat A torpid shoal of jest and anecdote, Like those queer fish that doze the droughts away, And wait for moisture, wrapped in sun-baked clay; This warmed the one-eyed fiddler to his task, Perched in the corner on an empty cask, By whose shrill art rapt suddenly, some boor Rattled a double-shuffle on the floor; "Hull's Victory" was, indeed, the favorite air, Though "Yankee Doodle" claimed its proper share.
''Twas there I caught from Uncle Reuben's lips, In dribbling monologue 'twixt whiffs and sips, The story I so long have tried to tell; The humor coarse, the persons common,--well, From Nature only do I love to paint, Whether she send a satyr or a saint; To me Sincerity's the one thing good, Soiled though she be and lost to maidenhood. Quompegan is a town some ten miles south From Jethro, at Nagumscot river-mouth, A seaport town, and makes its title good With lumber and dried fish and eastern wood. Here Deacon Bitters dwelt and kept the Store, The richest man for many a mile of shore; In little less than everything dealt he, From meeting-houses to a chest of tea; So dextrous therewithal a flint to skin, He could make profit on a single pin; In business strict, to bring the balance true He had been known to bite a fig in two, And change a board-nail for a shingle-nail. All that he had he ready held for sale, His house, his tomb, whate'er the law allows, And he had gladly parted with his spouse. His one ambition still to get and get, He would arrest your very ghost for debt. His store looked righteous, should the Parson come, But in a dark back-room he peddled rum, And eased Ma'am Conscience, if she e'er would scold, By christening it with water ere he sold. A small, dry man he was, who wore a queue, And one white neckcloth all the week-days through,-- On Monday white, by Saturday as dun As that worn homeward by the prodigal son. His frosted earlocks, striped with foxy brown, Were braided up to hide a desert crown; His coat was brownish, black perhaps of yore; In summer-time a banyan loose he wore; His trousers short, through many a season true, Made no pretence to hide his stockings blue; A waistcoat buff his chief adornment was, Its porcelain buttons rimmed with dusky brass. A deacon he, you saw it in each limb, And well he knew to deacon-off a hymn, Or lead the choir through all its wandering woes With voice that gathered unction in his nose, Wherein a constant snuffle you might hear, As if with him 'twere winter all the year. At pew-head sat he with decorous pains, In sermon-time could foot his weekly gains, Or, with closed eyes and heaven-abstracted air, Could plan a new investment in long-prayer. A pious man, and thrifty too, he made The psalms and prophets partners in his trade, And in his orthodoxy straitened more As it enlarged the business at his store; He honored Moses, but, when gain he planned, Had his own notion of the Promised Land.
'Soon as the winter made the sledding good, From far around the farmers hauled him wood, For all the trade had gathered 'neath his thumb. He paid in groceries and New England rum, Making two profits with a conscience clear,-- Cheap all he bought, and all he paid with dear. With his own mete-wand measuring every load, Each somehow had diminished on the road; An honest cord in Jethro still would fail By a good foot upon the Deacon's scale, And, more to abate the price, his gimlet eye Would pierce to cat-sticks that none else could spy; Yet none dared grumble, for no farmer yet But New Year found him in the Deacon's debt.
'While the first snow was mealy under feet, A team drawled creaking down Quompegan street. Two cords of oak weighed down the grinding sled, And cornstalk fodder rustled overhead; The oxen's muzzles, as they shouldered through, Were silver-fringed; the driver's own was blue As the coarse frock that swung below his knee. Behind his load for shelter waded he; His mittened hands now on his chest he beat, Now stamped the stiffened cowhides of his feet, Hushed as a ghost's; his armpit scarce could hold The walnut whipstock slippery-bright with cold. What wonder if, the tavern as he past, He looked and longed, and stayed his beasts at last, Who patient stood and veiled themselves in steam While he explored the bar-room's ruddy gleam?
'Before the fire, in want of thought profound, There sat a brother-townsman weather-bound: A sturdy churl, crisp-headed, bristly-eared, Red as a pepper; 'twixt coarse brows and beard His eyes lay ambushed, on the watch for fools, Clear, gray, and glittering like two bay-edged pools; A shifty creature, with a turn for fun, Could swap a poor horse for a better one,-- He'd a high-stepper always in his stall; Liked far and near, and dreaded therewithal. To him the in-comer, "Perez, how d' ye do?" "Jest as I'm mind to, Obed; how do you?" Then, his eyes twinkling such swift gleams as run Along the levelled barrel of a gun Brought to his shoulder by a man you know Will bring his game down, he continued, "So, I s'pose you're haulin' wood? But you're too late; The Deacon's off; Old Splitfoot couldn't wait; He made a bee-line las' night in the storm To where he won't need wood to keep him warm. 'Fore this he's treasurer of a fund to train Young imps as missionaries; hopes to gain That way a contract that he has in view For fireproof pitchforks of a pattern new, It must have tickled him, all drawbacks weighed, To think he stuck the Old One in a trade; His soul, to start with, wasn't worth a carrot. And all he'd left 'ould hardly serve to swear at."
'By this time Obed had his wits thawed out, And, looking at the other half in doubt, Took off his fox-skin cap to scratch his head, Donned it again, and drawled forth, "Mean he's dead?" "Jesso; he's dead and t'other _d_ that follers With folks that never love a thing but dollars. He pulled up stakes last evening, fair and square, And ever since there's been a row Down There. The minute the old chap arrived, you see, Comes the Boss-devil to him, and says he, 'What are you good at? Little enough, I fear; We callilate to make folks useful here.' 'Well,' says old Bitters, 'I expect I can Scale a fair load of wood with e'er a man.' 'Wood we don't deal in; but perhaps you'll suit, Because we buy our brimstone by the foot: Here, take this measurin'-rod, as smooth as sin, And keep a reckonin' of what loads comes in. You'll not want business, for we need a lot To keep the Yankees that you send us hot; At firin' up they're barely half as spry As Spaniards or Italians, though they're dry; At first we have to let the draught on stronger, But, heat 'em through, they seem to hold it longer.'
'"Bitters he took the rod, and pretty soon A teamster comes, whistling an ex-psalm tune. A likelier chap you wouldn't ask to see, No different, but his limp, from you or me"-- "No different, Perez! Don't your memory fail? Why, where in thunder was his horns and tail?" "They're only worn by some old-fashioned pokes; They mostly aim at looking just like folks. Sech things are scarce as queues and top-boots here; 'Twould spoil their usefulness to look too queer. Ef you could always know 'em when they come, They'd get no purchase on you: now be mum. On come the teamster, smart as Davy Crockett, Jinglin' the red-hot coppers in his pocket, And clost behind, ('twas gold-dust, you'd ha' sworn,) A load of sulphur yallower 'n seed-corn; To see it wasted as it is Down There Would make a Friction-Match Co. tear its hair! 'Hold on!' says Bitters, 'stop right where you be; You can't go in athout a pass from me.' 'All right,' says t'other, 'only step round smart; I must be home by noon-time with the cart.' Bitters goes round it sharp-eyed as a rat, Then with a scrap of paper on his hat Pretends to cipher. 'By the public staff, That load scarce rises twelve foot and a half.' 'There's fourteen foot and over,' says the driver, 'Worth twenty dollars, ef it's worth a stiver; Good fourth-proof brimstone, that'll make 'em squirm,-- I leave it to the Headman of the Firm; After we masure it, we always lay Some on to allow for settlin' by the way. Imp and full-grown, I've carted sulphur here, And gi'n fair satisfaction, thirty year.' With that they fell to quarrellin' so loud That in five minutes they had drawed a crowd, And afore long the Boss, who heard the row, Comes elbowin' in with 'What's to pay here now?' Both parties heard, the measurin'-rod he takes, And of the load a careful survey makes. 'Sence I have bossed the business here,' says he, 'No fairer load was ever seen by me.' Then, turnin' to the Deacon, 'You mean cus. None of your old Quompegan tricks with us! They won't do here: we're plain old-fashioned folks, And don't quite understand that kind o' jokes. I know this teamster, and his pa afore him, And the hard-working Mrs. D. that bore him; He wouldn't soil his conscience with a lie, Though he might get the custom-house thereby. Here, constable, take Bitters by the queue. And clap him into furnace ninety-two, And try this brimstone on him; if he's bright, He'll find the masure honest afore night. He isn't worth his fuel, and I'll bet The parish oven has to take him yet!'"
'This is my tale, heard twenty years ago From Uncle Reuben, as the logs burned low, Touching the walls and ceiling with that bloom That makes a rose's calyx of a room. I could not give his language, wherethrough ran The gamy flavor of the bookless man Who shapes a word before the fancy cools, As lonely Crusoe improvised his tools. I liked the tale,--'twas like so many told By Rutebeuf and his Brother Trouveres bold; Nor were the hearers much unlike to theirs, Men unsophisticate, rude-nerved as bears. Ezra is gone and his large-hearted kind, The landlords of the hospitable mind; Good Warriner of Springfield was the last; An inn is now a vision of the past; One yet-surviving host my mind recalls,-- You'll find him if you go to Trenton Falls.'