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The Idyl of Twin Fires

Walter Prichard Eaton

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at


  "So that is why you wanted my brook to come from thespring!"]




  Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty


  Publishers : : New York

  Copyright, 1914, 1915, by Doubleday, Page & Company

  All rights reserved, including that of translationinto foreign languages, including the Scandinavian


  I. I Buy a Farm on Sight 3 II. My Money Goes and My Farmer Comes 19 III. New Joy in an Old Orchard 34 IV. I Pump up a Ghost 47 V. I Am Humbled by a Drag Scraper 66 VI. The Hermit Sings at Twilight 77 VII. The Ghost of Rome in Roses 88 VIII. I Pick Paint and a Quarrel 102 IX. We Seat Thoreau in the Chimney Nook, and I Write a Sonnet 113 X. We Climb a Hill Together 130 XI. Actaeon and Diana 143 XII. Shopping as a Dissipation 155 XIII. The Advent of the Pilligs 164 XIV. The First Lemon Pie 177 XV. A Pagan Thrush 192 XVI. I Go to New York for a Purpose 204 XVII. I Do Not Return Alone 220 XVIII. We Build a Pool 227 XIX. The Nice Other Things 237 XX. Callers 245 XXI. Autumn in the Garden 252 XXII. In Praise of Country Winter 264 XXIII. Spring in the Garden 275 XXIV. Some Rural Problems 282 XXV. _Horas Non Numero Nisi Serenas_ 297


  "So that is why you wanted my brook to come from the spring!" _Frontispiece_ She was sitting with a closed book on her knee, gazing into the fire 124 "Well, well, you've got yourself a bookay," she said 174 "We are your neighbours ... you are very fortunate to have us for neighbours" 246


  Chapter I


  I was sitting at a late hour in my room above the college Yard,correcting daily themes. I had sat at a late hour in my room abovethe college Yard, correcting daily themes, for it seemed an interminablenumber of years--was it six or seven? I had no great love for it,certainly. Some men who go into teaching, and of course all men whobecome great teachers, do have a genuine love for their work. But I amafraid I was one of those unfortunates who take up teaching as astop-gap, a means of livelihood while awaiting "wider opportunities."These opportunities in my case were to be the authorship of anepoch-making novel, or a great drama, or some similar masterpiece. Ihad been accredited with "brilliant promise" in my undergraduate days,and the college had taken me into the English department upon graduation.

  Well, that was seven years ago. I was still correcting daily themes.

  It was a warm night in early April. I had a touch of spring fever, andwrote vicious, sarcastic comments on the poor undergraduate pages ofunexpressiveness before me, as through my open windows drifted up fromthe Yard a snatch of song from some returning theatre party. Most ofthese themes were hopeless. Your average man has no sense of literature.Moreover, by the time he reaches college it is too late to teach himeven common, idiomatic expressiveness. That ought to be done in thesecondary schools--and isn't. I toiled on. Near the bottom of thepile came the signature, James Robinson. I opened the sheet with relief.He was one of the few in the class with the real literary instinct--alad from some nearby New England village who went home over Sunday andbrought back unconscious records of his changing life there. I enjoyedthe little drama, for I, too, had come from a suburban village, and knewthe first bitter awakening to its narrowness.

  I opened the theme, and this is what I read:

  "The April sun has come at last, and the first warmth of it lays a benediction on the spirit, even as it tints the earth with green. Our barn door, standing open, framed a picture this morning between walls of golden hay--the soft rolling fields, the fringe of woodland beyond veiled with a haze of budding life, and then the far line of the hills. A horse stamped in the shadows; a hen strolled out upon the floor, cooting softly; there was a warm, earthy smell in the air, the distant church bell sounded pleasantly over the fields, and up the road I heard the rattle of Uncle Amos's carryall, bearing the family to meeting. The strife of learning, the pride of the intellect, the academic urge--where were they? I found myself wandering out from the barnyard into the fields, filled with a great longing to hold a plow in the furrow till tired out, and then to lie on my back in the sun and watch the lazy clouds."

  So Robinson had spring fever, too! How it makes us turn back home! Imade some flattering comment or other on the paper (especially, I recall,starring the verb _coot_ as good hen lore), and put it with the rest.Then I fell to dreaming. Home! I, John Upton, academic bachelor, hadno home, no parents, no kith nor kin. I had my study lined with books,my little monastic bedroom behind it, my college position, and a shabbyremnant of my old ambitions. The soft "coot, coot" of a hen picking upgrain on the old barn floor! I closed my eyes in delicious memory--memoryof my grandfather's farm down in Essex County. The sweet call of thevillage church bell came back to me, the drone of the preacher, thesmell of lilacs outside, the stamp of an impatient horse in the horsesheds where liniment for man and beast was advertised on tin posters!

  "Why don't I go back to it, and give up this grind?" I thought. Then,being an English instructor, I added learnedly, "and be a disciple ofRousseau!"

  It was a warm April night, and I was foolish with spring fever. I beganto play with the idea. I got up and opened my tin box, to investigatethe visible paper tokens of my little fortune. There was, in all, about$30,000, the result of my legacy from my parents and my slender savingsfrom my slender salary, for I had never had any extravagances exceptbooks and golf balls. I had heard of farms being bought for $1,500. Thatwould still leave me more than $1,200 a year. Perhaps, with the freedomfrom this college grind, I could write some of those masterpieces atlast--even a best seller! I grew as rosy with hope as an undergraduate.I looked at myself in the glass--not yet bald, face smooth, ratheracademic, shoulders good, thanks to daily rowing. Hands hard, too! Isought for a copy of the _Transcript_, and ran over the real estateads. Here was a gentleman's estate, with two butler's pantries and aconcrete garage--_that_ would hardly do! No, I should have to consultsomebody. Besides $1,200 a year would hardly be enough to run even a$1,500 farm on, not for a year or two, because I should have to hirehelp. I must find something practical to do to support myself. What? What_could_ I do, except put sarcastic comments on the daily themes ofhelpless undergraduates? I went to bed with a very poor opinion ofEnglish instructors.

  But God, as the hymn remarks, works in a mysterious way His wonders toperform. Waking with my flicker of resolution quite gone out, I metmy chief in the English department who quite floored me by asking me ifI could find the extra time--"without interfering with my academicduties"--to be a reader for a certain publishing house which had justconsulted h
im about filling a vacancy. I told him frankly that if Igot the job I might give up my present post and buy a farm, but as hedidn't think anybody could live on a manuscript reader's salary, helaughed and didn't believe me, and two days later I had the job. Itwould be a secret to disclose my salary, but to a man who had been anEnglish instructor in an American college for seven years, it looked goodenough. Then came the Easter vacation.

  Professor Farnsworth, of the economics department, had invited me on amotor trip for the holidays. (The professor married a rich widow.)

  "As the Cheshire cat said to Alice," he explained, "it doesn't matterwhich way you go, if you don't much care where you are going to; andwe don't, do we?"

  "Yes," I said, "I want to look at farms."

  But he only laughed, too. "Anyhow, we won't look at a singleundergraduate," he said.

  In the course of our motor flight from the Eternal Undergraduate, wereached one night a certain elm-hung New England village noted for itsviews and its palatial summer estates, and put up at the hotel there.The professor, whose hobby is real estate values, fell into a discussionwith the suave landlord on the subject, considered locally. (Being astate congressman, he was unable to consider anything except locally!)The landlord, to our astonishment, informed us that building-sites onthe village street and the nearby hills sold as high as $5,000 per acre.

  "What does farm land cost?" I inquired sadly.

  "As much as the farmer can induce you to pay," he laughed. "But if youwere a farmer, you might get it for $100 an acre."

  "I _am_ a farmer," said I. "Where is there a farm for sale?"

  The landlord looked at me dubiously. But he volunteered this information:"When you leave in the morning, take the back road, up the hollow,toward what we call Slab City. You'll pass a couple of big estates.About half a mile beyond the second estate, you'll come to a crossroad.Turn up that a hundred yards or so and ask for Milt Noble at the firsthouse you come to. Maybe he'll sell."

  It was a glorious April morning when we awoke. The roads were dry. Springwas in the air. The grass had begun to show green on the beautiful lawnsof Bentford Main Street. The great elms drooped their slender, barelimbs like cathedral arches. We purred softly up the Slab City road,pleased by the name of it, passed the two estates on the hill outside ofthe village, and then dipped into a hollow. As this hollow held noextended prospect, the summer estates had ceased on its brim. The roadbecame the narrow dirt track of tradition, bramble-lined. Presently wereached the crossroad. A groggy sign-board stood in the little deltaof grass and weeds so characteristic of old New England crossroads, andon it a clumsy hand pointed to "Albany." As Albany was half a day'srun in a motor car, and no intervening towns were mentioned, there was afine, roving spirit about this groggy old sign which tickled me.

  We ran up the road a hundred yards of the fifty miles to Albany, crosseda little brook, and stopped the motor at what I instantly knew for myabode.

  I cannot tell you how I knew it. One doesn't reason about such thingsany more than one reasons about falling in love. At least, I'm sureI didn't, nor could I set out in cold blood to seek a residence,calculating water supply, quality of neighbours, fashionableness ofsite, nearness to railroad, number of closets, and all the rest. Isaw the place, and knew it for mine--that's all.

  As the motor stopped, I took a long look to left and right, sighed, andsaid to the professor: "I hereby resign my position as instructor inEnglish, to take effect immediately."

  The professor laughed. He didn't yet believe I meant it.

  My grandfather was an Essex County farmer, and lived in a rectangular,simple, lovely old house, with woodsheds rambling indefinitely outbehind and a big barn across the road, with a hollow-log wateringtrough by a pump in front and a picture of green fields framed by thelittle door at the far end. Grandfather's house and grandfather's barn,visited every summer, were the sweetest recollections of my childhood.And here they were again--somewhat dilapidated, to be sure, with amountain in the barn-door vista instead of the pleasant fields ofEssex--but still true to the old Yankee type, with the same old woodenpump by the hollow-log trough, green with moss.

  I jumped from the motor and started toward the house on the run.

  "Whoa!" cried the professor, laughing, "you poor young idiot!" Then,in a lower tone, he cautioned: "If our friend Milt sees you want thisplace so badly, he'll run up the price. Where's your Yankee blood?"

  I sobered down to a walk, and together we slipped behind a century-oldlilac bush at the corner of the house, and sought the front of thedwelling unobserved. The house was set with its side to the road, aboutone hundred feet into the lot. A long ell ran out behind, evidentlycontaining the kitchen and then the sheds and outhouses. The sidedoor, on a grape-shadowed porch, was in this ell, facing the barn acrossthe way. The main body of the dwelling was the traditional, simpleblock, with a fine old doorway, composed of simple Doric pilasterssupporting a hand-hewn broken pediment--now, alas! broken in morethan an architectural sense. It was a typical house of the splendidcarpenter-and-builder period of a century ago.

  This front door faced into an aged and now sadly dilapidated orchard.Once there had been a path to the road, but this was now overgrown,and the doorsteps had rotted away. The orchard ran down a slope ofperhaps half an acre to the ferny tangle of the brook bed. Beyond thatwas a bordering line of ash-leaf maples, evidently marking the otherroad out of which we had turned. The winters had racked the poor oldorchard, and great limbs lay on the ground. What remained were bristlingwith suckers. The sills of the house were still hidden under banksof leaves, held in place by boards, to keep out the winter cold. Therewere no curtains in the windows, nor much sign of furniture within.From this view the old house looked abandoned. It had evidently notbeen painted for twenty years.

  But, as I stood before the battered doorway and looked down through thestorm-racked orchard to the brook, I had a sudden vision of pink treesabloom above a lawn, and through them the shimmer of a garden pool andthe gleam of a marble bench or, maybe, a wooden bench painted white. Onthe whole, that would be more in keeping. This Thing called gardeninghad got hold of me already! I was planning for next year!

  "You could make a terrace out here, instead of a veranda," I was sayingto the professor. "White wicker furniture on the grass before thisColonial doorway! It's ideal!"

  He smiled. "How about the plumbing?" he inquired.

  I waved away such matters, and we returned around the giant lilac treeto the side door, searching for Milton Noble. A bent old lady peeredover her spectacles at us, and allowed Milt wuz out tew the barn. Hewas, standing in the door contemplating our car.

  "Good morning," said I.

  "Mornin'," said he, peering sharply at me with gray eyes that twinkledpalely above a great tangle of white whisker.

  "A fine old house you have," I continued.

  "Hed first-growth timber when 'twas built. Why wouldn't it be?" Hespat lazily, and wiped the back of his hand across his whiskers.

  "We hear you want to sell it, though?" My sentence was a question.

  "Dunno whar you heerd thet," he replied. "I hain't said I did."

  We mentioned the innkeeper's name.

  "Humph," said Milt, "Tom knows more about folks sometimes then theydo."

  "Don't you want to sell?" said I.

  "Wanter buy?" said he.

  "I might," said I.

  "I might," he answered.

  There was not the slightest expression of mirth on his face. Theprofessor did not know whether to laugh or not. But I laughed. I was bornof Yankee stock.

  "How about water?" I asked, becoming very practical.

  "Well," he said, "thet never dried up. Town main comes down the ro'dyander, from the Slab City reservoar. You kin tap thet if well waterhain't good enough fer ye."

  "Bathrooms?" I suggested.

  The old man spat again. "Brook makes a pool sometimes down yander," hereplied, jerking his thumb.

  "Suppose we take a look into the house?" suggested the professor

  The old man moved languidly from the door. As he stepped, his old blacktrouser leg pulled up over his shoe top, and we saw that he wore nostockings. He paused in front of the motor car. "How much did thetbenzine buggy cost?" he asked.

  "Four thousand dollars," said the owner.

  The gray eyes darted a look into the professor's face; then they becameenigmatic. "Powerful lot o' money," he mused, moving on. "Whar'syourn?" he added to me.

  "If I had one of those, I couldn't have your farm," said I.

  He squinted shrewdly. "Dunno's yer kin, anyway, do ye?" was his reply.

  He now led us into the kitchen. We saw the face of the old lady peeringat us from the "butt'ry." A modern range was backed up against ahuge, old-fashioned brick oven, no longer used. A copper pump, with abrass knob on the curved handle, stood at one end of the sink--"Goester the well," said Milt. The floor was of ancient, hardwood planking,now worn into polished ridges. A door led up a low step into the mainhouse, which consisted, downstairs, of two rooms, dusty and disused, tothe left, and two similar rooms, used as bedrooms, to the south (allfour containing fireplaces), and a hall, where a staircase with carvedrail led to the hall above, flanked by four chambers, each with itsfireplace, too. Over the kitchen was a long, unfinished room easilyconverted into a servant's quarters. Secretly pleased beyond measure atthe excellent preservation of the interior, I kept a discreet silence,and with an air of great wisdom began my inspection of the farm.

  Twenty acres of the total thirty were on the side of the road with thehouse, and the lot was almost square--about three hundred yards to aside. Down along the brook the land had been considered worthless. Southof the orchard it had grown to sugar maple for a brief space, then toyoung pine, evidently seedlings of some big trees now cut down, with alittle tamarack swamp in the far corner. The pines again ran up thesouthern boundary from this swamp. The brook flowed cheerily below theorchard, wound amid the open grove of maples, and went with a littledrop over green stones into the dusk of the pines. The rest of the land,which lay up a slope to a point a little west of the house and thenextended along a level plateau, was either pasture or good averagetillage, fairly heavy, with subsoil enough to hold the dressing. It had,however, I fancied, been neglected for many years, like the tumblingstone walls which bounded it, and which also enclosed a four or fiveacre hayfield occupying the entire southwestern corner of the lot, onthe plateau. The professor, who married a summer estate as well as amotor car, confirmed me in this. Behind the barn, on the other side ofthe road, the rectangular ten-acre lot was rough second-growth timberby the brook, and cow pasture all up the slope and over the plateau.

  Returning to the house, we took a sample of the water from the well foranalysis. When I asked the old lady (I made the mistake of calling herMrs. Noble) to boil the bottle and the cork first, I think they bothdecided I was mad.

  "Now," said I, as I put the sample in my pocket, "if this water getsa clean bill of health, what do you want for the place?"

  "What'll you give me?" said Milt.

  "Look here," said I, "I'm a Yankee, too, and I can answer onequestion with another just as long as you can. What do you expect me togive you?"

  The old man spat meditatively, and wiped his whiskers with the back ofhis hand.

  "Pitt Perkins got $500 an acre for his place," said he.

  "They get $500 a square foot on Wall Street in New York," I replied.

  "And 'twon't grow corn, neither," said Milt, with his nearestapproximation to a grin.

  "It pastures lambs," put in the professor.

  But Milt didn't look at him. He gazed meditatively at the motor. "Sothet contraption cost $4,000, did it?" he mused, as if to himself, "and'twon't drop a calf, neither. How'd $8,000 strike you?"

  I took the bottle of well water from my pocket, and extended it towardhim. "Here," I said, "there's no need for me to have this analyzed."

  "Seven?" said he.

  "Four!" said I.

  "Six?" said he.

  "Not a cent over four," said I.

  "All right," said he, "didn't much want ter sell anyhow." And hepocketed the bottle.

  I climbed into the car, and the professor walked in front and cranked it.(It had a self-starter, which was, as they usually appear to be, out ofcommission.) The engine began to throb. The professor put on his gloves.

  "Five," said Milt, "with the hoss an' two Jerseys an' all the woodin the shed."

  He was standing in the road beside the modern motor car, a pathetic oldfigure to me, so like my grandfather in many ways, the last of an ancientorder. Poverty, decay, was written on him, as on his farmstead.

  "It's yours!" I cried.

  I got out of the car again, and we made arrangements to meet in thevillage and put the deal through. Then I asked him the question whichhad been pressing from the first. "Why do you sell?"

  He pointed toward a distant estate, with great chimneys and gables,crowning a hill. "This hain't my country no more," he said, with akind of mournful dignity. "It's theirs, and theirs, and theirs. I'mtoo old ter l'arn ter lick boots an' run a farm fer another feller. Iwuz brought up on corn bread, not shoe polish. I got a daughter outin York State, an' she'll take me in if I pay my board. I guess $5,000'll last me 'bout as long as my breath will. Yer got a good farmhere--if yer can afford ter put some money back inter the soil."

  He looked out over his fields and we looked mercifully into the motor.The professor backed the car around, and we said good-bye.

  "Hope the bilin' kills all them bugs in the bottle," was the oldman's final parting.

  "Well!" I cried, as we spun down over the bridge at my brook, "I'vegot a country estate of my own! I've got a home! I've got freedom!"

  "You've got stuck," said the professor. "He'd have taken $4,000."

  "What's a thousand dollars, more or less?" said I. "Besides, the poorold fellow needs it worse than I do."

  "It's a thousand dollars," replied my companion.

  "Yes, to you," I answered. "You are a professor of economics. But tome it's nothing, for I'm an instructor in English."

  "And the point is?"

  "That I'm going back home!" I cried. And I took off my hat and let theApril wind rush through my hair.