It was really a good little summer resort where the boy and I were pegging away at our vacation. There were the mountains conveniently arranged, with pleasant trails running up all of them, carefully marked with rustic but legible guide-posts; and there was the sea comfortably besprinkled with islands, among which one might sail around and about, day after day, not to go anywhere, but just to enjoy the motion and the views; and there were cod and haddock swimming over the outer ledges in deep water, waiting to be fed with clams at any time, and on fortunate days ridiculously accommodating in letting themselves be pulled up at the end of a long, thick string with a pound of lead and two hooks tied to it. There were plenty of places considered proper for picnics, like Jordan's Pond, and Great Cranberry Island, and the Russian Tea-house, and the Log Cabin Tea-house, where you would be sure to meet other people who also were bent on picnicking; and there were hotels and summer cottages, of various degrees of elaboration, filled with agreeable and talkable folk, most of whom were connected by occupation or marriage with the rival colleges and universities, so that their ambitions for the simple life had an academic thoroughness and regularity. There were dinner parties, and tea parties, and garden parties, and sea parties, and luncheon parties, masculine and feminine, and a horse-show at Bar Harbor, and a gymkhana at North East, and dances at all the Harbors, where Minerva met Terpischore on a friendly footing while Socrates sat out on the veranda with Midas discussing the great automobile question over their cigars.
It was all vastly entertaining and well-ordered, and you would think that any person with a properly constituted mind ought to be able to peg through a vacation in such a place without wavering. But when the boy confessed to me that he felt the need of a few "days off" in the big woods to keep him up to his duty, I saw at once that the money spent upon his education had not been wasted; for here, without effort, he announced a great psychological fact--_that no vacation is perfect without a holiday in it_. So we packed our camping-kit, made our peace with the family, tied our engagements together and cut the string below the knot, and set out to find freedom and a little fishing in the region around Lake Nicatous.
The south-east corner of the State of Maine is a happy remnant of the ancient wilderness. The railroads will carry you around it in a day, if you wish to go that way, making a big oval of two or three hundred miles along the sea and by the banks of the Penobscot, the Mattawamkeag, and the St. Croix. But if you wisely wish to cross the oval you must ride, or go afoot, or take to your canoe; probably you will have to try all three methods of locomotion, for the country is a mixed quantity. It reminds me of what I once heard in Stockholm: that the Creator, when the making of the rest of the world was done, had a lot of fragments of land and water, forests and meadows, mountains and valleys, lakes and moors, left over; and these He threw together to make the southern part of Sweden. I like that kind of a promiscuous country. The spice of life grows there.
When we had escaped from the railroad at Enfield on the Penobscot, we slept a short night in a room over a country store, and took wagon the next morning for a twenty-five mile drive. At the somnolent little village of Burlington we found our guides waiting for us. They were sitting on the green at the cross-roads, with their paddles and axes and bundles beside them. I knew at a glance that they were ready and all right: Sam Dam, an old experienced, seasoned guide, and Harry, a good-looking young woodsman who had worked in lumber camps and on "the drive," but had never been "guiding" before. He was none the worse for that, for he belonged to the type of Maine man who has the faculty of learning things by doing them.
As we rattled along the road the farms grew poorer and sparser, until at last we came into the woods, crossed the rocky Passadumkeag River, and so over a succession of horseback hills to the landing-place on Nicatous Stream, where the canoes were hidden in the bushes. Now load up with the bundles and boxes, the tent, the blanket-roll, the clothes-bag, the provisions--all the stuff that is known as "duffel" in New York, and "_butins_" in French Canada, and "_wangan_" in Maine--stow it all away judiciously so that the two light craft will be well balanced; and then push off, bow paddles, and let us taste the joy of a new stream! New to the boy and me, you understand; but to the guides it was old and familiar, a link in a much-travelled route. The amber water rippled merrily over the rocky bars where the river was low, and in the still reaches it spread out broad and smooth, covered with white lilies and fringed with tall grasses. All along the pleasant way Sam entertained us with memories of the stream.
"Ye see that grassy p'int, jest ahead of us? Three weeks ago I was comin' down for the mail, and there was three deer a-stannin' on that p'int, a buck and a doe and a fawn. And----"
"Up in them alders there's a little spring brook comes in. Good fishin' there in high water. But now? Well----"
"Jest beyond that bunch o' rocks last fall there was three fellers comin' down in a canoe, and a big bear come out and started 'cross river. The gun was in the case in the bottom of the canoe, and one o' the fellers had a pistol, and so----"
Beyond a doubt it was so, always has been so, and always will be so--just so, on every river travelled by canoes, until the end of time. The sportsman travels through a happy interval between memories of failure and expectation of success. But the river and the wind in the trees sing to him by the way, and there are wild flowers along the banks, and every turn in the stream makes a new picture of beauty. Thus we came leisurely and peacefully to the place where the river issued from the lake; and here we must fish awhile, for it was reported that the landlocked salmon lay in the narrow channel just above the dam.
Sure enough, no sooner had the fly crossed the current than there was a rise; and at the second cast a pretty salmon of two and a half pounds was hooked, played, and landed. Three more were taken, of which the boy got two--and his were the biggest. Fish know nothing of the respect due to age. They leaped well, those little salmon, flashing clean out of the water again and again with silvery gleams. But on the whole they did not play as strongly nor as long as their brethren (called _ouananiche_,) in the wild rapids where the Upper Saguenay breaks from Lake St. John. The same fish are always more lively, powerful, and enduring when they live in swift water, battling with the current, than when they vegetate in the quiet depths of a lake. But if a salmon must live in a luxurious home of that kind, Nicatous is a good one, for the water is clear, the shores are clean, the islands plenty, and the bays deep and winding.
At the club-house, six miles up the lake, where we arrived at candle-lighting, we found such kindly welcome and good company that we tarried for three days in that woodland Capua, discussing the further course of our expedition. Everybody was willing to lend us aid and comfort. The sociable hermit who had summered for the last twenty years in his tiny cabin on the point gave us friendly counsel and excellent large blueberries. The matron provided us with daily bags of most delicate tea, a precaution against the native habit of "squatting" the leaves--that is, boiling and squeezing them to extract the tannin. The little lady called Katharyne (a fearless forest-maid who roamed the woods in leathern jacket and short blue skirt, followed by an enormous and admiring guide, and caught big fish everywhere) offered to lend us anything in her outfit, from a pack-basket to a darning-needle. It was cheerful to meet with such general encouragement in our small adventure. But the trouble was to decide which way to go.
Nicatous lies near the top of a watershed about a thousand feet high. From the region round about it at least seven canoeable rivers descend to civilization. The Narraguagus and the Union on the south, the Passadumkeag on the west, the Sisladobsis and the St. Croix on the north, and the two branches of the Machias or Kowahshiscook on the east; to say nothing of the Westogus and the Hackmatack and the Mopang. Here were names to stir the fancy and paralyze the tongue. What a joy to follow one of these streams clear through its course and come out of the woods in our own craft--from Nicatous to the sea!
It was perhaps something in the name, some wild generosity of alphabetical expenditure, that led us to the choice of the Kowahshiscook, or west branch of the Machias River. Or perhaps it was because neither of our guides had been down that stream, and so the whole voyage would be an exploration, with everybody on the same level of experience. An easy day's journey across the lake, and up Comb's Brook, where the trout were abundant, and by a two-mile carry into Horseshoe Lake, and then over a narrow hardwood ridge, brought us to Green Lake, where we camped for the night in a new log shanty.
Here we were at the topmost source--_fons et origo_--of our chosen river. This single spring, crystal-clear and ice-cold, gushing out of the hillside in a forest of spruce and yellow birch and sugar maple, gave us the clue that we must follow for a week through the wilderness.
But how changed was that transparent rivulet after it entered the lake. There the water was pale green, translucent but semi-opaque, for at a depth of two or three feet the bottom was hardly visible. The lake was filled, I believe, with some minute aquatic growth which in the course of a thousand years or so would transform it into a meadow. But meantime the mystical water was inhabited, especially around the mouth of the spring, by huge trout to whom tradition ascribed a singular and provoking disposition. They would take the bait, when the fancy moved them: but the fly they would always refuse, ignoring it with calm disdain, or slapping at it with their tails and shoving it out of their way as they played on the surface in the summer evenings. This was the mysterious reputation of the trout of Green Lake, handed down from generation to generation of anglers; and this spell we had come to break, by finding the particular fly that would be irresistible to those secret epicures and the psychological moment of the day when they could no longer resist temptation. We tried all the flies in our books; at sunset, in the twilight, by the light of the stars and the rising moon, at dawn and at sunrise. Not one trout did we capture with the fly in Green Lake. Nor could we solve the mystery of those reluctant fish. The boy made a scientific suggestion that they got plenty of food from the cloudy water, which served them as a kind of soup. My guess was that their sight was impaired so that they could not see the fly. But Sam said it was "jest pure cussedness." Many things in the world happen from that cause, and as a rule it is best not to fret over them.
The trail from Green Lake to Campbell Lake was easily found; it followed down the outlet about a mile. But it had been little used for many years and the undergrowth had almost obliterated it. Rain had been falling all the morning and the bushes were wetter than water. On such a carry travel is slow. We had three trips to make each way before we could get the stuff and the canoes over. Then a short voyage across the lake, and another mile of the same sort of portage, after which we came out with the last load, an hour before sundown, on the shore of the Big Sabeo. This lake was quite different from the others; wide and open, with smooth sand-beaches all around it. The little hills which encircled it had been burned over years ago; and the blueberry pickers had renewed the fire from year to year. The landscape was light green and yellow, beneath a low, cloudy sky; no forest in sight, except one big, black island far across the water.
The place where we came out was not attractive; but nothing is more foolish than to go on looking for a pretty camp-ground after daylight has begun to wane. When the sun comes within the width of two paddle-blades of the horizon, if you are wise you will take the first bit of level ground within reach of wood and water, and make haste to get the camp in order before dark. So we pitched our blue tent on the beach, with a screen of bushes at the back to shelter us from the wind; broke a double quantity of fir branches for our bed, to save us from the midnight misery of sand in the blankets; cut a generous supply of firewood from a dead pine-tree which stood conveniently at hand; and settled down in comfort for the night.
What could have been better than our supper, cooked in the open air and eaten by fire-light! True, we had no plates--they had been forgotten--but we never mourned for them. We made a shift to get along with the tops of some emptied tin cans and the cover of a kettle; and from these rude platters, (quite as serviceable as the porcelain of Limoges or Sevres) we consumed our toast, and our boiled potatoes with butter, and our trout prudently brought from Horseshoe Lake, and, best of all, our bacon.
Do you remember what Charles Lamb says about roast pig? How he falls into an ecstasy of laudation, spelling the very name with small capitals, as if the lower case were too mean for such a delicacy, and breaking away from the cheap encomiums of the vulgar tongue to hail it in sonorous Latin as _princeps obsoniorum_! There is some truth in his compliments, no doubt; but they are wasteful, excessive, imprudent. For if all this praise is to be lavished on plain, fresh, immature, roast pig, what adjectives shall we find to do justice to that riper, richer, more subtle and sustaining viand, broiled bacon? On roast pig a man can not work; often he can not sleep, if he have partaken of it immoderately. But bacon "brings to its sweetness no satiety." It strengthens the arm while it satisfies the palate. Crisp, juicy, savory; delicately salt as the breeze that blows from the sea; faintly pungent as the blue smoke of incense wafted from a clean wood-fire; aromatic, appetizing, nourishing, a stimulant to the hunger which it appeases, 'tis the matured bloom and consummation of the mild little pig, spared by foresight for a nobler fate than juvenile roasting, and brought by art and man's device to a perfection surpassing nature. All the problems of woodland cookery are best saved by the baconian method. And when we say of one escaping great disaster that he has "saved his bacon," we say that the physical basis and the quintessential comfort of his life are still untouched and secure.
Steadily fell the rain all that night, plentiful, persistent, drumming on the tightened canvas over our heads, waking us now and then to pleasant thoughts of a rising stream and good water for the morrow. Breaking clouds rolled before the sunrise, and the lake was all a-glitter when we pushed away in dancing canoes to find the outlet. This is one of the problems in which the voyager learns to know something of the infinite reserve, the humorous subtlety, the hide-and-seek quality in nature. Where is it--that mysterious outlet? Behind yonder long point? Nothing here but a narrow arm of the lake. At the end of this deep bay? Nothing here but a little brook flowing in. At the back of the island? Nothing here but a landlocked lagoon. Must we make the circuit of the whole shore before we find the way out? Stop a moment. What are those two taller clumps of bushes on the edge of this broad curving meadow--down there in the corner, do you see? Turn back, go close to the shore, swing around the nearer clump, and here we are in the smooth amber stream, slipping silently, furtively, down through the meadow, as if it would steal away for a merry jest and leave us going round and round the lake till nightfall.
Easily and swiftly the canoes slide along with the little river, winding and doubling through the wide, wild field, travelling three miles to gain one. The rushes nod and glisten around us; the bending reeds whisper as we push between them, cutting across a point. Follow the stream; we know not its course, but we know that if we go with it, though it be a wayward and tricksy guide, it will bring us out--but not too soon, we hope!
Here is a lumberman's dam, broad-based, solid, and ugly, a work of infinite labour, standing lonely, deserted, here in the heart of the wilderness. Now we must carry across it. But it shall help while it hinders us. Pry up the creaking sluice-gates, sending a fresh head of water down the channel along with us, lifting us over the shallows, driving us on through the rocky places, buoyant, alert, and rejoicing, till we come again to a level meadow, and the long, calm, indolent reaches of river.
Look on the right there, under the bushes. There is a cold, still brook, slipping into the lazy river; and there we must try the truth of the tales we have heard of the plentiful trout of Machias. Let the flies fall light by the mouth of the brook, caressing, inviting. Nothing there? Then push the canoe through the interlaced alders, quietly, slowly up the narrow stream, till a wider pool lies open before you. Now let the rod swing high in the air, lifting the line above the bushes, dropping the flies as far away as you can on the dark-brown water. See how quickly the answer comes, in two swift golden flashes out of the depths of the sleeping pool. This is a pretty brace of trout, from thirty to forty ounces of thoroughbred fighting pluck, and the spirit that will not surrender. If they only knew that their strength would be doubled by acting together, they soon would tangle your line in the roots or break your rod in the alders. But all the time they are fighting against each other, making it easy to bring them up to the net and land them--a pair of beauties, evenly matched in weight and in splendour, gleaming with rich iridescent hues of orange and green and peacock-blue and crimson. A few feet beyond you find another, a smaller fish, and then one a little larger; and so you go on up the stream, threading the boat through the alders, with patience and infinite caution, carefully casting your flies when the stream opens out to invite them, till you have rounded your dozen of trout and are wisely contented. Then you go backward down the brook--too narrow for turning--and join the other canoe that waits, floating leisurely on with the river.
There is a change now in the character of the stream. The low hills that have been standing far away, come close together from either side, as if they meant to bar any further passage; and the dreamy river wakes up to wrestle its way down the narrow valley. There are no long, sleepy reaches, no wide, easy curves, now; but sharp, quick turns from one rocky ledge to another; and enormous stones piled and scattered along the river-bed; and sudden descents from level to level as if by the broad steps of a ruined, winding stairway. The water pushes, and rushes, and roars, and foams, and frets--no, it does not fret, after all, for there is always something joyous and exultant in its voice, a note of the _gaudia certaminis_ by which the struggle of life is animated, a note of confident strength, sure that it can find or make a way, through all obstacles, to its goal. This is what I feel in a river, especially a little river flowing through a rough, steep country. This is what makes me love it. It seems to be thoroughly alive, and glad to be alive, and determined to go on, and certain that it will win through.
Our canoes go with the river, but no longer easily or lazily. Every step of the way must be carefully chosen; now close to the steep bank where the bushes hang over; now in mid-stream among the huge pointed rocks; now by the lowest point of a broad sunken ledge where the water sweeps smoothly over to drop into the next pool. The boy and I, using the bow paddles, are in the front of the adventure, guessing at the best channel, pushing aside suddenly to avoid treacherous stones hidden with dark moss, dashing swiftly down the long dancing rapids, with the shouting of the waves in our ears and the sprinkle of the foam in our faces.
From side to side of the wild avenue through the forest we turn and dart, zigzagging among the rocks. Thick woods shut us in on either hand, pines and hemlocks and firs and spruces, beeches and maples and yellow-birches, alders with their brown seed-cones, and mountain-ashes with their scarlet berries. All four of us know the way; there can be no doubt about that, for down the river is the only road out. But none of us knows the path; for this is a new stream, you remember, and between us and our journey's end there lie a thousand possible difficulties, accidents, and escapes.
The boy had one of them. His canoe struck on a ledge, in passing over a little fall, swung around sidewise to the current, and half filled with water; he and Harry had to leap out into the stream waist-deep. Sam and I made merry at their plight. But Nemesis was waiting for me a few miles below.
All the pools were full of fine trout. While the men were cooking lunch in a grove of balsams I waded down-stream to get another brace of fish. Stepping carefully among the rocks, I stood about thigh-deep in my rubber boots and cast across the pool. But the best bit of water was a little beyond my reach. A step further! There is a yellow bit of gravel that will give a good footing. Intent upon the flight of my flies, I took the step without care. But the yellow patch under the brown water was not gravel; it was the face of a rock polished smoother than glass. Gently, slowly, irresistibly, and with deep indignation I subsided backward into the cold pool. The rubber boots filled with water and the immersion was complete. Then I stood up and got the trout. When I returned to the camp-fire, the others laughed at me uproariously, and the boy said: "Why did you go in swimming with your clothes on? Were you expecting a party of ladies to come down the stream?"
Our tenting-places were new every night and forsaken every morning. Each of them had a charm of its own. One was under a great yellow-birch tree, close to the bank of the river. Another was on top of a bare ridge in the middle of a vast blueberry patch, where the luscious fruit, cool and fresh with the morning dew, spread an immense breakfast-table to tempt us. The most beautiful of all was at the edge of a fir-wood, with a huge rock, covered with moss and lichen, sloping down before us in a broad, open descent of thirty feet to the foaming stream. The full moon climbed into the sky as we sat around our camp-fire, and showed her face above the dark, pointed tree-tops. The winding vale was flooded with silver radiance that rested on river and rock and tree-trunk and multitudinous leafage like an enchantment of tranquillity. The curling currents and the floating foam, up and down the stream, were glistening and sparkling, ever moving, yet never losing their position. The shouting of the water melted to music, in which a thousand strange and secret voices, near and far away, blending and alternating from rapid to rapid and fall to fall, seemed like hidden choirs, answering one another from place to place. The sense of struggle, of pressure and resistance, of perpetual change, was gone; and in its stead there was a feeling of infinite quietude, of perfect balance and repose, of deep accord and amity between the watching heavens and the waiting earth, in which the conflicts of existence seemed very distant and of little meaning, and the peace of nature prophesied
"That one, far-off divine event
Towards which the whole creation moves."
Thus for six days and nights we kept company with our little river, following its guidance and enjoying all its changing moods. Sometimes it led us through a smooth country, across natural meadows, alder-fringed, where the bed of the stream was of amber sand and polished gravel, and the water rippled gently over the shallow bars, and there were deep holes underneath the hanging bushes, where the trout hid from the heat of the noon sun. Sometimes it had carved a way for itself over huge beds of solid rock, where, if the slope was gentle, we could dart arrow-like along the channel from pool to pool; but if the descent was steep and broken, we must get out of the canoes and let them down with ropes. Sometimes the course ran for miles through evergreen forests, where the fragrance of the fir-trees filled the air; and again we came out into the open regions where thousands of acres of wild blueberries were spread around us.
I call them wild because no man's hand has planted them. Yet they are cultivated after a fashion. Every two or three years a district of these hills is set on fire, and in the burned ground, the next spring, the berry-bushes come up innumerable. The following fall they are loaded so heavily with blueberries that the harvest is gathered with rakes, each of which has a cup underneath it into which the berries fall as the rake is thrust through the bushes. The land is owned by two or three large proprietors, who employ men and women to gather the crop, paying them a few cents a bushel for picking. Sometimes the proprietor leases his land to a factor, who pays a royalty on every bushel turned in at the factory in some village on the railroad or by the seashore, where the berries are canned or dried.
One day we came upon a camp of these berry-pickers by the river-side. Our first notice of their proximity was the sight of a raft with an arm-chair tied in the centre of it, stranded upon the rocks in a long, fierce rapid. Imagine how this looked to us after we had been five days in the wilderness! An arm-chair sitting up sedately in the middle of the rapids! What did it mean? Perhaps some vagrant artist had been exploring the river, and had fixed his seat there in order to paint a picture. Perhaps some lazy fisherman had found a good pool amid those boiling waters, and had arranged to take his ease while he whipped that fishy place with his flies. The mystery was solved when we rounded the next point; for there we found the berry-pickers taking their nooning in a cluster of little slab-shanties. They were friendly folks, men, women, and children, but they knew nothing about the river; had never been up farther than the place where the boys had left their raft in the high water a week ago; had never been down at all; could not tell how many falls there were below, nor whether the mouth was five or fifty miles away. They had come in by the road, which crossed the river at this point, and by the road they would go back when the berries were picked. They wanted to know whether we were prospecting for lumber or thinking of going into the berry business. We tried to explain the nature of our expedition to them, but I reckon we failed.
These were the only people that we really met on our journey, though we saw a few others far off on some bare hill. We did not encounter a single boat or canoe on the river. But we saw the deer come down to the shore, and stand shoulder-deep among the golden-rod and purple asters. We saw the ruffled grouse whir through the thickets and the wild ducks skitter down the stream ahead of us. We saw the warblers and the cedar-birds gathering in flocks for their southward flight, the muskrats making their houses ready for the winter, and the porcupines dumbly meditating and masticating among the branches of the young poplar-trees. We also had a delightful interview with a wild-cat, and almost a thrilling adventure with a bear.
The boy and I had started out from camp for an hour of evening fishing. He went down the stream some distance ahead of me, as I supposed, (though, as I afterward found, he had made a little detour and turned back). I was making my way painfully through a spruce thicket when I heard a loud crash and crackling of dead branches. "Hallo!" I cried; "have you fallen down? Are you hurt?" No answer. "Hallo, Teddy!" I shouted again; "what's the matter?" Another tremendous crash, and then dead silence.
I dropped my rod and pushed as rapidly as possible in the direction from which the sound had come. There I found a circle about fifty feet in diameter torn and trampled as if a circus had been there. The ground was trodden bare. Trees three and four inches thick were broken off. The bark of the larger trees was stripped away. The place was a ruin. A few paces away, among the bushes, there was a bear trap with some claws in it, and an iron chain attached to the middle of a clog about four feet long. The log hovel in which the trap had been set, we found later, a little way back on an old wood road. Evidently a bear had been caught there, perhaps two or three days before we came. He had dragged the trap and the chained clog down into the thicket. There he had stayed, tearing up things generally in his efforts to escape from his encumbrance, and resting quietly in the intervals of his fury. My approach had startled him and he had made the first crash that I heard. Then he lay low and listened. My second inconsiderate shout of "Hallo, _Teddy_!" had put such an enormous fear into him that he dashed through the trees, caught the foolishly chained clog across two of them, and, tearing himself loose, escaped with the loss of a couple of toes. Thus ended our almost adventure with a bear. How glad the old fellow must have been!
The moral is this: If you want a bear, you should set your trap with the clog chained at one end, not around the middle: then it will trail through the woods and not break loose. But the best way is not to want a bear.
Our last camp was just at the head of Holmes's Fall, a splendid ravine down which the river rushes in two foaming leaps. Here in the gray of the morning we lugged our canoes and our camp-kit around the cataract, and then launched away for the end of our voyage. It was full of variety, for the river was now cutting its course through a series of ridges, and every mile was broken with rapids and larger falls. There was but one other place, however, where we had to make a portage. I believe it was called Grand Falls. After that, the stream was smooth and quiet. The tall maples and ashes and elms stood along the banks as if they had been planted for a park. The first faint touch of autumn colour was beginning to illuminate their foliage. A few weeks later the river would be a long, winding avenue of gold and crimson, for every tree would redouble its splendour in the dark, unruffled water.
At one place, where there were a few cleared fields bordering on the river, we saw two or three houses and barns, and supposed we were near the end of our voyage. This was about nine o'clock in the morning; and we were glad because we calculated that we could catch the ten o'clock train for Bar Harbor. But that calculation was far astray. We skirted the cleared fields and entered the woodland again. The river flowed, broad and leisurely, in great curves half a mile long from point to point. As we rounded one cape after another we said to each other, "When we pass the next turn we shall see the village." But that inconsiderate village seemed to flee before us. Still the tall trees lined the banks in placid monotony. Still the river curved from cape to cape, each one like all the others. We paddled hard and steadily. Ten o'clock passed. Every day of our journey we had lost something--a frying-pan, a hatchet, a paddle, a ring. This day was no exception. We had lost a train. Still we pushed along against the cool wind, which always headed us, whether we turned north, or east, or south; wondering whether the village that we sought was still in the world, wondering whether the river came out anywhere, wondering--till at last we saw, across a lake-like expanse of water, the white church and the clustering houses of the far-famed Whitneyville.
It was a quaint old town, which had seen better days. The big lumber-mill that had once kept it busy was burned down, and the business had slipped away to the prosperous neighbouring town of Machias. There were nice old houses with tall pillars in front of them, now falling into decay and slipping out of plumb. There were shops that had evidently been closed for years, with not even a sign "To Let" in the windows. Our dinner was cooked for us in a boarding-house, by a brisk young lady of about fifteen years, whose mother had gone to Machias for a day in the gay world. With one exception that pleasant young lady was the only thing in Whitneyville that did not have an air of having been left behind.
The exception was the establishment of Mr. Cornelius D----, whose "General Store" beside the bridge was still open for business, and whose big white house stood under the elm-trees at the corner of the road opposite the church, with bright windows, fresh-painted walls, and plenty of flowers blooming around it. He was walking in the yard, dressed in a black broadcloth frock-coat, with a black satin necktie and a collar with pointed ends,--an old-fashioned Gladstonian garb. When I heard him speak I knew where he came from. It was the rich accent of Killarney, just as I had heard it on the Irish lakes two summers ago. But sixty years had passed since the young Cornelius had left the shores of the River Laune and come to dwell by the Kowahshiscook. He had grown up with the place; had run the lumber-mill and the first railroad that hauled the lumber from the mill down to tide-water; had become the owner of the store and the proprietor of some sixteen miles of timber-land along the river-front; had built the chief house of the village and given his children a capital education; and there he still dwelt, with his wife from Killarney, and with his tall sons and daughters about him, contented and happy, and not at all disposed to question the beneficent order of the universe. We had plenty of good talk that afternoon and evening, chiefly about the Old Country, and I had to rub up my recollections of Ross Castle and Kenmare House and all the places around Lough Leane, in order to match the old man's memory. He was interested in our expedition, too. He had often been far into the woods looking after his lumber. But I doubt whether he quite understood what it was that drew the boy and me on our idle voyage from Nicatous to the sea.
Return to the Henry van Dyke library , or . . . Read the next short story; A Lazy, Idle Brook